Numb.

Fingers, that is.

I’ve been struggling all week with numbness in my hand/fingers from holding my cross-stitching pattern. I use my right hand to stitch while my left hand holds the fabric.  My elbow is bent at greater than 90 degrees, so I’m sure I am compressing my ulnar nerve.

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First world problems, I know.

The time has come, I think, to purchase something that allows me the freedom not to use my left hand to hold the fabric for hours at a time.  After several days of research, I decided to purchase a lap stand. I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to work, but in theory it should allow me to rest my left hand since I won’t be using it to hold the fabric.

And the beast that has driven me to purchase this?

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A Welcome Reprieve

Family medicine is great. Earlier in the week I was completely slammed, double booked almost every hour. This morning two people no-showed and I have cleared my inbox in record time.  I’ve paid the office bills that piled up on my desk all week, I’ve already had two coffees and am feeling the caffeine buzz.  The phones at the front desk are pretty quiet.

The calm before the storm?

You betcha!

Mornings like this are nice especially when they follow a couple of crazy weeks of non-stop patients. It gives me time to reflect and regroup. It also makes me wish I had my cross-stitching tucked away in my desk. I have several projects on the go and being able to work on something while at the office would be great, especially on days like today when I have done all the work I can do and am just waiting for patients to show up.

I started cross-stitching in medical school.  I was never a crafty person and can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, so this was something I was quite surprised I took to so well.  Counted cross stitching is methodical, it’s relatively easy to learn and hard to mess up.  Having said that, on more than one occasion I have miscounted my stitches and while it can be really frustrating at the time, for the most part it is a relaxing and meditative hobby that I absolutely love.  When I haven’t had an opportunity to stitch I get cranky and irritable.  So at times like this, when the office is unusually quiet, I really wish I had my hobby to go to.

Back to Doing What I Love.

I did something last night I haven’t done in months.

I cross-stitched.

Most of my new followers probably don’t know this, but I am an avid cross-stitcher.  I started in medical school, wanting to have a hobby of sorts.  I was staying at my girlfriend’s house for a week one summer and she is quite crafty.  She and her mom took me to a local craft store and showed me around. I saw a picture of a cat asleep on a chair and was immediately drawn to it.  It was a beginner’s cross-stitch kit.  My friend’s mom thought it was something I could learn pretty quickly, so I bought it and I’ve been stitching ever since.

That first cross stitch design was this:

It has several mistakes, the most glaring of which is the “w” and “r” in “where” and the spacing between that and “the”.  Still, not too bad for a first try.  It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship between me and cat-themed cross stitch kits.

I’ve completed eight or so kits since I started stitching back in 2002.  I currently have three works-in-progress.  I stopped stitching sometime in July, mostly because my belly was getting far too big to hold the fabric for any length of time, not to mention sitting for hours at a time was just impossible.  And of course, since the baby was born my hands have been full of him and so it’s been next to impossible to find any decent chunk of time to work on my projects.

That is, until last night.

For the past few weeks, the baby is starting to get into a more predictable sleep pattern. I put him in his crib around 5-6pm for the night.  He will usually sleep 3 hours and wake for a feed, after which I put him right back to bed.  When I go up to bed, I take him out of his room and he sleeps in the bassinet next to my bedside.  So, for a few hours every night, I am now baby-free and can cross stitch.  Yay!  I started a kit for him a few months after I found out I was pregnant.  All the kids have a birth record framed cross stitch in their rooms, which I had completed by their first birthday.  For baby J, it’s no different.

Last night, I pulled out the kit for his birth record and went to work.  I lasted about an hour.  I hold the fabric in my left hand and after about 15 minutes, my thumb, index finger and the thenar eminence all started to go numb. My hands are clearly out of shape!  I’m not kidding!  Some nights I’m holding the fabric for several hours with no issues whatsoever.  Not last night though.  My eyes also got tired pretty quickly too.

I felt the calmness come over me, which I only get with stitching. I am so glad I worked on it, even if it was for a short period of time. My mind turned off and all I thought about was which cross I was going to do next. It calms me after a stressful day at work and it centers me when I’m in doubt.

It’s what I love to do.

Leisure Time

Hobbies.  Do you have one?  Seems like an odd topic for a post from a physician but bear with me, k?

I never really had a hobby.  I was too busy studying my ass off in high school, then university and throughout my graduate studies, to get into medical school.  But once I got in, during my spare time when I wasn’t studying, or partying with my new friends, I found I was kind of bored.  One of my girlfriends in medical school was into painting and horticulture, among other things.  My apartment was kind of lifeless, so she got me started with some household tropicals, terracotta pots and gave me a paintbrush.  It was a lot of fun and for many years thereafter, I amassed quite a collection of potted plants!

While I was visiting this girlfriend at her family’s home, her mother was crocheting.  I remembered my mom doing a lot of needlepoint while I was growing up, her designs were all over the walls of our house.  Watching my friend’s mother crocheting, I thought, “I should learn something like that”.  So, she tried to teach me  how to crochet, and well, I sucked at it.  It just wasn’t for me. My hands cramped up and I just couldn’t figure it out.  So, off we went to the local arts and crafts store (Michael’s) and we wandered up and down the aisles.  Something caught my eye – a cute little orange cat sitting on a blue chair and above was the writing, “Home Is Where The Cat Is”.   Eurkea!  “I want to try that!”, I exclaimed.  I picked out a counted cross stitch kit, my girlfriend’s mother showed me how to start, and I was hooked.

I have done quite a few kits since that first one, and almost all of them are cat-themed.  The two outliers are the ones I did for my children.  Cross stitching, for me, is like meditation.  I find it incredibly relaxing.  After a busy day at the office, it’s the only chance I get to shut my brain off for a while.  I find the counting and repetitive action of stitching very, very therapeutic.  I’m sure my eyes are not going to be happy with me in a few years; I’m certain I’ll need “cross stitching glasses” in the near future!!

All this is to say that I believe having a hobby is important.  It doesn’t matter what it is, we should all have something in our life that doesn’t involve work, spouses, or children.   It was often stressed in medical school that we live balanced lives as physicians.   Part of living a balanced life is having a life separate from work, separate from spouse, separate from children.  Please don’t misunderstand me – I don’t mean living a separate life.  I mean having something that is completely your own, something that you do on your own for your own sake.  Sounds selfish, right?  Well, it is.  If you don’t look out for your own well-being, who will?

Cross stitching helps keep me calm, sane, happy.

How about you?