August 7th, 2012 | filed in News

Medical Leave

Okay, I went to the doctor yesterday to have my hand examined. Over the weekend, while my hand and wrist got a little better, the pain was spreading to my arm. Then on Sunday the pain in my hand turned into numbness in my fingers. I panicked. I’ve been reading up on carpal tunnel syndrome, and had been talking with other cartoonists about the issue, and convinced myself I’d injured myself pretty badly. I had a moment where my career literally flashed before my eyes.

So, it was time to see a professional. After describing my symptoms, and what I’ve been doing the past few months, the doctor gave me good news: it’s not carpal tunnel. Instead, it’s a nerve in my arm that is being pinched due to bad working posture and has become inflamed due to overuse for the last couple of months. The hand and wrist pain were secondary issues related to this main one. Basically, not only have I been working too hard (mostly on things you haven’t gotten to see yet), but I’ve been spending a lot of time writing and drawing on the couch. Turns out this has been terrible for my neck and back, and the symptoms in my arm are a direct result.

The bad news is I’m looking at a 6-8 week recovery and physical therapy to correct my posture. Luckily since I went in as soon as I noticed a change in the symptoms, we caught it early, so it should be relatively easy to treat. But, I’ve been ordered to take off work for the next week. So, no drawing, no significant writing. I’m making an exception to post this so you all know what to expect.

Considering my arm and hand are my livelihood, I’m taking this very seriously. So, I’m sorry to say, I must put PS on Medical Leave until my arm gets better. If all goes well, I will be back to drawing in a week or so, but I don’t know how much I will able to get done until my arm has had a chance to recover fully. I think the safest course of action is to cancel this month’s update. If all goes well, I’ll be back to posting next month.

In the meantime, I’m going to focus on healing, reconfiguring my work space to prevent future injuries, and writing once my hand and arm are up to it again. I will keep you posted. Keep an eye on my twitter feed for timely updates. I’ll post here again when there’s something significant to say.

I know this year hasn’t gone the way any of us would of hoped, but we work with what we’re given.

Thanks again for your patience.

45 Responses to “Medical Leave”

  1. TheBig1 says:

    Take all the time you need. We completely understand and will patiently wait :)

  2. Wait… your health and physical well-being are more important than your us? Marvel, DC and countless newspaper syndicates let a little thing like humans interrupt a good franchise! Did Spider-Man stop without Ditko? Fantastic Four without Kirby? Scorchy Smith without Noel Sickels? Time to hire an army of manga-bots and hit those deadlines!

  3. Evan Smith says:

    Ah, that’s a shame. Yeah, you gotta do what you gotta do.

  4. “The Success Story”
    Script: Archie Goodwin
    Pencils: Al Williamson
    Inks: Al Williamson
    Letters: Ben Oda

    Archie Goodwin’s experience ghost writing Dan Flagg inspired “The Success Story” (Creepy #1, 1964). Comic strip creator Baldo Smudge hires three guys, telling each of he’s is performing the tasks of the others.

  5. MIke says:

    Try using your non-dominant hand, reversing the images. Unless that process got you into trouble before…

    • dirk says:

      Sorry, but trying to just work harder is what got me into this mess. Clearly my body is telling me to take a break in capital letters. If the doctor says don’t work for the next week, I’m going to listen. This is my livelihood on the line, here.

      • tahrey says:

        But… all the cool kids are doing left handed comics at the moment!

        Seriously 2012 has turned out to be the year of awesome online artists seriously ruining their dominant hands/wrists/arms in various ways…

        However if the prescription is total rest, then it is what it is, however interesting it would be to see left- (right?) handed Tiedeness ;)

  6. marmoe says:

    Take the time you need to fully heal. Then I would suggest to slowly start with the stuff that earns you your living. Everything else is not even of secondary importance.

    My best wishes for a full (and speedy) recovery. Do take your time.

    And let me take the opportunity to thank you for creating Paradigmshift and letting us enjoy it for free.

  7. Cindy says:

    Concentrate on getting better! We can wait. ^_^

  8. haiiro_okami says:

    Like I said before, PS is well worth waiting for, get well soon Dirk.

  9. Randall Drew says:

    Get well soon Dirk! Still hope to see you at some of the fall cons!

  10. RA says:

    Hey, take some time and take it easy on your arm – central nervous tissue doesn’t regenerate as well as the rest of us, so keep what you’ve got!

  11. W. says:

    I am glad you are following your doctor’s advice! I hope they will give you advice on how to avoid causing injury to yourself in the future. Ergonomic mouse/keyboard. Different chair work station? I had a friend go through this, and had surgery, because he didn’t listen. I really like your comic, but it is not worth crippling yourself and causing a career ending injury. My friend isn’t right yet and may never be. It really amazes me that something as innocuous as drawing can cause substantial injury, but it can. Take care and be well. I know I’ll wait. Any more messages, use voice activation!

    • dirk says:

      Though those things will help, the doctor said the trigger was working on the couch and accumulated years of slouching. My posture is the ultimate culprit. Right now my ring finger and pinkie go numb if I slouch in my chair for even a short time. Basically, the nerve is getting pinched somewhere between my neck and shoulder, and the symptoms are traveling all the way down my arm. By taking the week off work, we’re bringing the inflammation down, but to fix this long term, I need to learn to sit up straight. Any fixes to my workspace that will help that will be welcome.

      Honestly, I’m really happy this isn’t carpal tunnel, but it is serious, and it’s something that’s built up over a long period of time. My change in work habits (ie writing on the couch for the past four months) is was pushed it over the line.

      The good news is the rest is helping. My symptoms are improving, but I’m not healed by a long shot. If I even try to use my computer for more than a half hour at a time, the pain comes back. So, I’ve got a ways to go, yet.

      • tahrey says:

        Eek … I get a hint of that whilst mousing or smartphoning … time to take a crash course in serious posture improvement I suppose?

  12. Ben Scott says:

    You know, Dirk, if you wanted a vacation, you could have just *said* so.


    Like everyone else says, rest up, get well, come back when you’re ready. The comic will still be here. Waiting. Biding it’s time. And then when you least expect it… er, wait, I kind of lost my train of thought there.

    Oh, yah, so, take it easy. We’ll wait.

  13. ChineseWolf says:

    Just take your time, and try not push yourself too hard.

  14. Jim Harms says:

    Dirk since I have been a sloucher for years I can tell you its really bad for you. I can’t even rest in hard chairs any more as my spine has bowed out. Riding on a bus or CTA train is harsh.

    Believe your doctor, do what they say, not being able to do what you love without pain only increases the joy not diminishes it.


    • dirk says:

      Yeah, I’m taking this as a warning shot across the bow. Basically, having the most important tool in my arsenal go numb, no matter how briefly, was a serious wake up call.

      I’d already been heeding my doctor’s advice about exercising more regularly for the past year for similar reasons, but this is the first time something has directly affected my work.

      I am paying serious attention, now. Already starting daily exercises to counteract it. Even sitting in a chair is becoming an active activity. I’m hyper aware of my back position, and it’s already so from the workout I’m giving it, and I’m only a few days in.

  15. James says:

    take as much time as you need man. Hope the wrist gets better!

  16. Frédéric says:

    First and foremost: Take your time to get better – your audience will be patient! I’ve been around since Volume 1, Chapter 1 and I won’t quit because of some weeks or months of medical recovery.

    I’ve had a similar case myself in 2010. Got an Ulnar nerve entrapment on my left elbow:

    The causes were twofold: Overwork on the left hand (typing on the keyboard) and bad working posture. My elbows were angled more than 90°, causing the Ulnar nerve to run out of space at the elbow. I suffered similar symptons like you: Numbness in 4th and 5th finger, pain in the wrist.
    In my case, it comes down to maintaining an upright posture in my chair and to avoid leaning towards the monitor – because that’s what forces my elbow into an > 90° angle.

    Since you’ve already been told that your problem stems from the neck region, these things will not help you directly. However it might give you some more insight on how important posture is when working an indoor-job.

    The weird thing: It literally starts with the feet. Your neck posture is dictated by the way your lower body parts are arranged on your chair or your couch. So I strongly recommend you get some information on the topic of work ergonomy. I found this image to be quite revealing:

    Hope you’ll be better soon!


  17. Scott B says:


    Consider a standing workspace for some of your work. I switched to one for my computer work and have found it makes a huge improvement in ergonomics. You also get the added benefits of being “active” instead of passive in a sitting or slouching position.
    There are good ergo resources available via your favorite search engine.

  18. J Hoekstra says:

    I’m sorry to hear that. Please, take your time recovering. It’s not worth it to risk your health for a few impatient fans.
    Anyways, here’s to hoping you’ll get well soon.

  19. Youko says:

    Hey man, no problem at all. Take all the time you need to get better. It’s not worth permanently injuring yourself just to satisfy a few fans for a little bit.

  20. Ric says:

    Hope you recover soon, your health is the most important thing and people who realy care about you and your work can wait.
    Thaks for the years of work.

  21. David T says:

    I am glad to hear that the problem was quickly located and does not require invasive surgery. As many have said, I can wait. I want to see the story continue to completion, and if you injure yourself permanently in the near term to get a little bit more done, but can then never complete the story, the price is too high.

    May all the good wishes and supporting comments speed your recovery, but let the professionals tell you when it is safe.

  22. Zedd_Overkill says:

    Nerve issues are nothin’ to sneeze at! Take your time, DT, we’ll be here when you get back! Rather have you in tiptop for the long run, and all that. ^_^

  23. Iceburgh says:

    Better to heal fully for the long term, then to try to rush things and break down again. At least you know what to look for in case it happens again.

  24. DavidG says:

    BTDT with neck injuries referring into my arms, definitely need to take them seriously. WRT problems using your computer, it might be worth checking your workstation ergonomics, I find I need the monitor much higher than most consumer setups place it, the standard ergonomics recommendation seems to be at eye-level. Also worth checking whether a higher or lower position for the mouse helps.

  25. JimL says:

    Hope you feel better soon! I guess I will just have to order your books to get my fix of werewolf cops.

  26. Oh goodness, the loss of your hand is a artist’s nightmare. I wouldn’t know what I would do if I can’t draw anymore… luckily, you caught it in time! Take your time and let that hand heal – it’s not like we’re going anywhere. X3

    • dirk says:

      Indeed. It’s been a trying few weeks. Over the weekend I discovered I can play guitar again without repercussion. So, that’s something.

      Just started Week 3 of 6 (or 8). I still can’t really do much of anything work-related. I can type or use the computer for about an hour before the pain comes back (which is an improvement) and I need to rest for couple of hours for it to subside, so I can’t really get much done. And frankly, I’m not really thinking about work at this point. Focusing my attention elsewhere — reading, watching things I’ve been meaning to see, doing some research, planning a studio cleanout and revamp, mostly. Also running and going to the library.

      It’s really strange that it feels like it’s my hand and arm, but the problem really is in my neck and shoulder — the symptoms just transfer downstream. I can really tell, now, if I move my neck wrong. If I sit up straight, the symptoms subside. Basically, I can’t look down by bending my neck forward, or things go numb in my hand. So, even if I wanted to try writing or drawing left-handed, I can’t. Unless I tape things to the wall. Not fun or productive, really.

      Anyway, I’m healing, but slowly. I’ll try to post something about it for real this week.

      • JimT says:

        I had a similar issue, and went numb in left pinkie and ring finger. Diagnosis was Degenerative disc desease in cervical 5, 6 and 7. ask your PT or Dr. about cervical traction, it’s provided a lot of relief for me (in addition to the exercises). The device I have is really good and have been using for a while. The numbness is gone and the strength is back to normal.
        As an aside, working until you have pain or numbness probably means you’ve gone too long! How is it if you work 15 on 15 off? You may have more capacity, but don’t over do!

      • dirk says:

        Luckily I had not progressed that far. We caught it early, but the cure is mainly rest and re-training myself to sit properly and strengthen and build control in the requisite muscle groups in order to do that. So, basically, it just takes time. To tell you the truth, at this point I associate work with pain, so I’m basically backing off on doing anything PS-related until my flare-ups go away. As long as I pace myself, it’s okay, but I’m not out of the woods yet.

  27. Francisco says:

    Your health is more important than just about anything else (because you need it to do most things). Look after yourself and we’ll wait until you’ve recovered.

  28. Random Thoughts says:

    Take care of yourself. your fans a patient and will wait for you to recover.

  29. Mark says:

    Been following your webcomic for a long time would like to see it some more :)
    When my daughter was doing medical transcription she almost had to quit because of carpel tunnel – wearing the devices sold at got her back to work in 7-10 days.
    I’ve had periods of mild carpel tunnel myself (professional programmer) and these things have completely resolved them in a few days.
    They look wierd but they really do work and can actually cure the problem without surgery.

  30. Mark Varry says:

    Godspeed on a quick and full recovery. After all, your only human :D

  31. First, entertaining comic. I hope it continues.

    Now, if your problem turns out to be a permanent one, you have a disability that threatens your livelihood. There are things called accommodations and assistive technology that allows people to deal with those kinds of things. In those matters, your doctor isn’t the expert, find your local vocational rehabilitation expert and talk to them. They’re in league with people called “rehabilitation engineers” that can often do wonders.

  32. warhawk says:

    Checking in to see how the recovery is going. All hope, prayer and wishes continue. Drop us a line now and again, just a howdy, still breathing will work. Continue to take the time needed, your work is well worth any wait.
    God speed on your continuing recovery.

  33. Cindy says:

    I have to agree with warhawk. It’s completely understandable that you have to take time off, but please post now and then. We like to know how you’re doing. As warhawk said, “still breathing” will let us know that you have fallen off the face of the planet. ^_^

    • dirk says:

      I know. I apologize for being so silent. The truth is dealing with the public is generally stressful for me, especially when there hasn’t been much to say. I have been avoiding the internet lately because of it. I know you all have only the best of intentions, but every time I get poked, I want to retreat into my hole again. It’s not rational, but it is the truth.

      The short version is I’m on my last week of recovery, I’m slowly coming back work, but it’s going to be awhile before I’m back to working full speed again.

      I’m preparing a longer post now. You’ll get the whole story soon.

      • PartyTime says:

        “The short version is I’m on my last week of recovery”

        You don’t know how long ive waited for this :D thanks for resuming progress!

      • dirk says:

        See the new post. I’m recovering, but it’ll be a little while yet before a new page goes up.

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