Part of this introduction is a lesson that your body is just as important as the instrument you use it to play. They tell you that you should listen to your body, and if something hurts there’s a reason. You shouldn’t mistake destruction for the good pain of muscle development. What they don’t teach you is what you’re supposed to do when the damage has already been done. No one can prepare you to completely change your life, abandon all of your current goals at nineteen.
The thing about nerve damage is, it’s usually not something that happens abruptly. You don’t just wake up one day with your body completely unwilling to follow instructions. It’s something that happens gradually and it’s so easy to ignore because this is the type of damage that happens when the pain subsides.
For a violinist, it’s easier to notice a tiny change in sensitivity – not because you know you can’t feel it, but because your ears are hearing something that completely disagrees with your hands. Your pinkie, an always trusted companion, suddenly isn’t where he’s supposed to be and you can’t actually feel that he’s gone. It’s like waking up and remembering you’re sleeping alone because you can’t hear the other person breathing.
It’s not until you start dropping things that you really begin to comprehend what nerve damage means. With Cubital Tunnel Syndrome it’s hard to get past the soreness in your elbows or the pain shooting down the outside of your forearms. Other people, they just think you’re clumsy, unaware of your surroundings. But the truth is, you knew you had a firm hold on that cup. That bowl of cereal you dumped all over the couch for no reason – it was perfectly balanced in your left hand; and that tray of drinks you spilled all over that customer, well, that was just a rite of passage.
Inside a black, canvas-covered case, padded with foam and covered in green velvet, my true love resides. Some people close their eyes and feel the phantom touch of a long lost love. I can still feel the pressure of a thin gold E-string cutting into my fingertips, my thumbnail sinking into the scarred leather of my bow. I close my eyes and I can once again rest my cheek on the shoulder of my violin patiently waiting for a rehearsal to start, not realizing the simple comfort I took in the feeling of a chin rest pushing into my right bicep or the way my shoulder rest held my waist as my instrument lay tucked under my arm.
When you hear the phrase “nerve damage” you think of terrible accidents – you think of athletes with torn tendons and of live completely changed by a single moment. Who you don’t picture is an otherwise healthy nineteen year old violinist.
I was raised to ignore pain. Allowing pain to interfere with any task was unacceptable. As an adolescent, “suck it up” was my mantra. Illness was not something to stop your life for and injury was no exception. If you could stay away from the bathroom long enough without vomiting, you were healthy enough to go to school; to go to work: you weren’t sick enough to acknowledge.
By these standards, a small twinge of pain in your left elbow is beyond negligible and a burning ache in the wrist is certainly nothing to acknowledge beyond a tiny grimace.
In your first semester as a music major at any institution, you are welcomed further into a culture that was, before you arrived, probably only a small portion of your daily life. Freshman orientation courses in the music building teach you how that building will be your home. Practice rooms should be seen more often than dorm rooms and, yes, we even petitioned to have a café here specifically for you because, who would ever want to leave here – except maybe to sleep.