A Date with a Dragon Down the Carpal Tunnel


Advertisements

So you might have noticed that I’ve gone quiet the last couple of weeks. All signals have been cut, so to speak, since I’ve got the geeky equivalent of a mogul skier’s torn ACL: that is, carpal tunnel syndrome (or, perhaps, RSI).

It blows. In every respect it sucks. It’s all-encompassing pain, and it’s a constant reminder of how often I use my hands and, unfortunately, how I’ve neglected to take care of them. Even though carpal tunnel is typically aggravated by genetic predisposition (which I’ve got: thanks Mom, thanks Grandma) there are a great any things you can do and use to avoid it, including exercises, posture, and gadgets. But it still takes time to heal. Not good news for a writer, y’know?

Even though my hands are improving slowly, I still can’t type for very long and I have to be extremely careful about the surface I’m typing on. For example, I learned that the laptop on the kitchen table method (my usual approach) is entirely out for me. Talk about excruciating pain! Although I certainly want to be able to make an investment in my writing career, the timing of this injury is terrible. Day by day I have been finding myself more and more frustrated with the lack of progress. The pain just hasn’t wanted to go away, in spite of the fact that I’ve been resting, taking NSAIDs, and wearing arm splints (which do not make me look like Wonder Woman, no matter how much I squint).

It’s been a humbling experience to say the least. I’m used to being able to do everything at once, to multitask, to be a mom, wife, writer—I typically cough up over 2K words a day between fiction and blogging. At this rate it’s been hard enough just to get daily routine accomplished (laundry, cooking, childrearing: all painful!).

As soon as I realized that the recovery was going to take quite a while, I started looking into software that might make my life easier. One of the predominant names in dictation software is Dragon, which, despite its rather geeky name is pretty business-oriented. People in the health care business often rely on software like Dragon Naturally Speaking in order to dictate large amounts of notes from doctors.

In spite of all the good reviews of Dragon, one of the difficult issues has to do with the fact that it is a heck of a lot of money for me to consider spending at the moment, no matter how much my hands hurt. Bloggers aren’t typically rolling in the dough, as you might imagine. And not to mention that owning a Mac means putting up over $150 more for Dragon, which is actually named Dictate on the Mac platform, than for the standard Windows version. Lucky me. And of course, considering the bad reputation that much speech-to-text software has, I worried that if I spent the $200, I would end up with a product that didn’t even work. Looking for other options, I was unable to find any speech to text software that was either free, trial, or open source. I was ready to give up.

But as it turns out, I was simply thinking in the wrong direction.

Believe it or not, there is an app for that. Nuance, Dragon’s parent company, released a free version of their popular product for the iPod and iPhone demographic. I must admit at first I was positive that it wouldn’t work. However, I have written half of this article using the app from my iPod Touch. Can you tell which one?

There are a few immediate drawbacks to the app. First, you need a mic if you own an iPod. I have a pair of $5.99 earbuds that came with a mic, and they work just fine. But from a usability standpoint, one of the problems common with the Dragon app is that with too much text the entire application stalls and sometimes quits. So you have to know your limitations. There is also no way to save text once it’s been transcribed. That means that I have to dictate small bits of information and e-mail the text to myself as quickly as possible. The result is quite a few e-mails in my inbox. But that saves a great deal of sore fingers, so I’m willing to compromise (this article had 7 separate emails).

And while the speech recognition is quite impressive for a free application, it does require quite a bit of editing after it’s been turned to text. While it does appear to learn words after correction, it’s not always accurate. To give you an idea what text might look like without being edited, here’s a section from The Hobbit, read aloud without any editing:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and in the Mideast now, nor yet a July, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on Ortanique: it was the hobbit hole, and that means comfort.

So, no. I probably won’t be using this to dictate my current novel in progress. But for blogging, emailing, and general note-taking, it definitely does the trick. It helps my hands, it lets me do what I love, and it’s entirely free. That’s the technology age for you. From beginning to end, this article took about an hour and a half to write, about a half hour more than normal. But it’s still a huge improvement over not writing at all! I’ll certainly take it. In the mean time, I can start writing again and hopefully save up for the better functioning full version.





20 Responses to A Date with a Dragon Down the Carpal Tunnel

  1. About 15 or so years ago I was starting to have sore wrists. So I purchased an MS Natural Keyboard. However that didn't quite work well because while my wrists were straight looking down, when looking at them sideways there was still quite a bend.

    Then a friend started selling a Fellowes ergonomic keyboard that didn't have a front lip. So Dad took a jigsaw to a 2×6 which we curved to match the front of the keyboard. We extended it about 6" past the keyboard for the mouse. I then had an upholstery shop put on 1/4" foam and a suede like material. I've been exceedingly happy with it ever since.

    (Note that the keyboard is old enough that it has the large round adapters. Also note that I currently have three being used in various places and four sitting in the original plastic wrappers. At my current breakage rate of about one every ten years I should be goo well into my 90s.)

    For a not very good photo from about eight years ago see http://tonytoews.com/hardware.htm. If desired email me and I'll take a better photo from more vertical position.

  2. I have been going through the frustrations of CTS for over four months now. I’ve done three months of physical therapy and am now working on three months of acupuncture. I take two pills a day, have a regiment of excercises, cold to hot water soaks, a TENS unit and the list goes on.

    After trying to go back to work on a trial basis I discovered rather quickly that the pain came back and would stay back. After my company told me to go home and not come back, I got frustrated and went out and bought Dragon Speak Preferred.

    It does take some training but it does get smarter and used to your voice as you go. It is absolutely better than nothing at all and makes it so I can do SOMETHING.

    I don’t have an iPhone otherwise I’d give it a try but I did pony out the $200 so I’m making the best of it much like you.

    Take care and best wishes!

  3. I have been going through the frustrations of CTS for over four months now. I've done three months of physical therapy and am now working on three months of acupuncture. I take two pills a day, have a regiment of excercises, cold to hot water soaks, a TENS unit and the list goes on.

    After trying to go back to work on a trial basis I discovered rather quickly that the pain came back and would stay back. After my company told me to go home and not come back, I got frustrated and went out and bought Dragon Speak Preferred.

    It does take some training but it does get smarter and used to your voice as you go. It is absolutely better than nothing at all and makes it so I can do SOMETHING.

    I don't have an iPhone otherwise I'd give it a try but I did pony out the $200 so I'm making the best of it much like you.

    Take care and best wishes!

  4. About 15 or so years ago I was starting to have sore wrists. So I purchased an MS Natural Keyboard. However that didn't quite work well because while my wrists were straight looking down, when looking at them sideways there was still quite a bend.

    Then a friend started selling a Fellowes ergonomic keyboard that didn't have a front lip. So Dad took a jigsaw to a 2×6 which we curved to match the front of the keyboard. We extended it about 6" past the keyboard for the mouse. I then had an upholstery shop put on 1/4" foam and a suede like material. I've been exceedingly happy with it ever since.

    (Note that the keyboard is old enough that it has the large round adapters. Also note that I currently have three being used in various places and four sitting in the original plastic wrappers. At my current breakage rate of about one every ten years I should be goo well into my 90s.)

    For a not very good photo from about eight years ago see http://tonytoews.com/hardware.htm. If desired email me and I'll take a better photo from more vertical position.

  5. It’s been years that i am suffering from RSI at work and at home.
    Only cure i found is to do less typing and try not to do things which require extensive use of the mouse. I use a separate touch pad for scrolling long pages and a stylus to replace the mouse from time to times.
    Never tried the speech to text solutions before, always heard it wasn’t good enough. Best thing i found is to go away from the computer and video games during several days and let my hands recover.
    This can be very frustrating.

  6. It's been years that i am suffering from RSI at work and at home.

    Only cure i found is to do less typing and try not to do things which require extensive use of the mouse. I use a separate touch pad for scrolling long pages and a stylus to replace the mouse from time to times.

    Never tried the speech to text solutions before, always heard it wasn't good enough. Best thing i found is to go away from the computer and video games during several days and let my hands recover.

    This can be very frustrating.

  7. i had hand and wrist pain for years and tried many technological and medical options relieve the discomfort … eventually i found out that the actual cause of my hand pain was an issue was with my shoulder and neck (even though they didn't hurt)

    this article shows what areas can refer pain to the hand … you may find self-massaging those areas will help.

  8. The only thing that improved my carpel tunnel was surgery. I have an excellent hand surgeon that did both my hands and the outcome has been outstanding. I still have some discomfort especially after working with my hands a lot but the extreme pain is gone.

  9. The only thing that improved my carpel tunnel was surgery. I have an excellent hand surgeon that did both my hands and the outcome has been outstanding. I still have some discomfort especially after working with my hands a lot but the extreme pain is gone.

  10. CTS pretty much effects every part of your life, especially when you are a writer and a mom! It’s all encompassing and can be very debilitating.

    If you aren’t already, I strongly suggest you see a hand surgeon. Steroid injections can be very helpful, but you really want a specialist with a lot of experience doing the injection. A last resort is surgery, but for most people that resolves the problem entirely.

    I struggled with CTS for over two years. At first splinting helped. I found wearing the splints while I was sleeping was very important. I was able to keep most of the pain to a minimum by having periodic injections, but eventually they stopped working for more than a few weeks and I had the surgery. While it was a rough couple weeks after the surgery, once it healed I was back to normal. That is until I was pregnant and had tendinitis in both hands, but that is a different issue.

    Good luck!

  11. For me and many of my clients, the mouse is worse than the keyboard. Get an old school rollerball mouse. The kind with a pool ball size roller.

    As for text-to-speech, you really should check out the newest Windows computers. With careful shopping, you can buy a whole netbook for a little more than the retail price of Dragon for Mac.

  12. CTS pretty much effects every part of your life, especially when you are a writer and a mom! It's all encompassing and can be very debilitating.

    If you aren't already, I strongly suggest you see a hand surgeon. Steroid injections can be very helpful, but you really want a specialist with a lot of experience doing the injection. A last resort is surgery, but for most people that resolves the problem entirely.

    I struggled with CTS for over two years. At first splinting helped. I found wearing the splints while I was sleeping was very important. I was able to keep most of the pain to a minimum by having periodic injections, but eventually they stopped working for more than a few weeks and I had the surgery. While it was a rough couple weeks after the surgery, once it healed I was back to normal. That is until I was pregnant and had tendinitis in both hands, but that is a different issue.

    Good luck!

  13. For me and many of my clients, the mouse is worse than the keyboard. Get an old school rollerball mouse. The kind with a pool ball size roller.

    As for text-to-speech, you really should check out the newest Windows computers. With careful shopping, you can buy a whole netbook for a little more than the retail price of Dragon for Mac.

  14. After much suffering with a CTS RH wrist, amny NAID’a, and exercises and braces. Now pain free with DMSO cream, It’s wonderful.

  15. i had hand and wrist pain for years and tried many technological and medical options relieve the discomfort … eventually i found out that the actual cause of my hand pain was an issue was with my shoulder and neck (even though they didn't hurt)

    this article shows what areas can refer pain to the hand … you may find self-massaging those areas will help.

  16. After much suffering with a CTS RH wrist, amny NAID'a, and exercises and braces. Now pain free with DMSO cream, It's wonderful.