Christmas Eve 2 years ago, I spent the night (as I do most Christmas Eves) boozing away with friends and family at the Dumbleyung Tavern.
I woke up Christmas day with a numb left hand, and numbness on the outer side of my left arm all the way up to the elbow. When I got back to Perth a week later it still hadn’t gone away, so I went to see the doctor. He promptly informed me that it was due to drinking too much. I pretty much dismissed his advice since my doctor is an elderly Chinese man who is one of the biggest bible thumpers I have ever met. Even when I go in there with the flu he tells me it’s the booze’s fault.
Unfortunately in this case it seems he was right. Sometimes even a blind squirrel finds an acorn.
The problem is that I have injured the arm’s radial nerve. As a result, the muscles it controls and the skin-sensation it manages are out of commission. On its course from the spinal cord in the neck to the forearm and hand, the radial nerve — a bundle containing many individual nerve-fibers — spirals around the humerus-bone of the upper arm. The nerve is particularly vulnerable to injury near the mid-portion of the humerus, in this case by allowing the hard edge of the park-bench to compress it all night against the bone. The weakness produced by this condition is usually more impairing than the numbness that is also present.
With “palsy” as another word for weakness this kind of injury to the radial nerve is called “Saturday night palsy.”
Of course, injury to the radial nerve injury can occur on any other night of the week, as well, and the setting does not have to be a park-bench. The usual common denominators are that alcohol or other drugs are involved, and because of the deep, drug-induced slumber, the arm is kept in the same position all night long.
In other words, my arm went numb because I was pissed and slept on it. It was a bit of a worry at the time though, given that I couldn’t make a fist or pick anything up with it for over a month.
Thanks to Shaky Kaiser for the heads up. I will remember to be more careful when passed-out drunk in the future.