Fingers' Nerves, Old Drinking Water

Hi, Matt: I’m a former San Diegan who now lives in China. The bed here is provided by my employer, and it is a bit more firm than the average bed in America. Strangely, every time I fall asleep lying flat on my back, I will wake up to find the pinky and ring finger on both arms to be numb. If I sleep in any other position, I don’t have the problem. What’s going on — J.B. in China

Don’t know what the medical care situation is in China — a little more needle-y than in the U.S., I’d guess — but obviously we here gots the troubles. That’s the only explanation I can think of for all the “What’s this rash?” or “Why does my kneecap itch?” or “Is the blue dot on my butt normal?” that we get. We here at the Alice compound are indeed a multifantastikal group. But all that comes to a halt when we’re asked to offer a medical diagnosis concerning body parts we can’t see. Yeah, a psychic reading from Dr. Matthew is cheaper than a trip to Dr. Doctor, but, unfortunately you get what you pay for. And by the way, a bed? Quite a perk. (Uh, what kind of job do you have?) So, anyway, here’s our big guess. We discussed this around the dinner table; naturally it ended in our trademark food fight, the only reason we talk around the dinner table in the first place. So, okay, hey, Matthew, get on with it.

That plywood mattress your boss presented to you — you sleep okay on it? Well, we’ve decided (mused, guessed, fabricated, whimsied — based on solid scientific research, of course) it’s at the heart of all your problems. Your fingers are numb because something’s pinching the nerves assigned to pinky-ring duty. Our fingers are oddly innervated — not individually but in groups. They’re at the end of two continually branching nerve pathways (one left side, one right side) that start at a common spinal cord connection in the middle of our backs, about midway between shoulder and waist. (At C1, for those who care.) Something about your posture when you’re supine puts pressure on some part of the nerve highways that end in your pinky and ring fingers, which have a common innervation from the final nerve branches in the hand. Roll over and the pressure is relieved. We can only predict more nerve and muscle problems in your future as you gradually smash your already too-hard mattress to the depth of a Quarter Pounder. All in all, perkwise, we’d rather have a 401(k) or monthly muffin baskets. Our sympathies and best wishes.

Dear Matthew Alice, et al.: My lovely wife of eight years and mother to our two great kids, bless her heart, puts up with a lot of my idiosyncrasies, having only a few of her own to get back at me with. There is one, though, that while not truly “annoying” does give me pause. As many do, she likes to bring a glass of water to bed with her. If she does not drink the entire glass, and it is still there the next night, she refuses to drink it, saying it is old (not one to waste water, I usually drink it). What perplexes me is why she would think it is no longer the same as the night before. She doesn’t care about the temperature, just says it’s old and tastes different. My memory of high school science class tells me you need an awful lot of heat to change H₂0. I don’t think the night light has that going for it. — Don, via email

“Old” water. What a concept. And maybe you were absent the day high school science class covered “evaporation.” Yeah, there’s a bit o’ truth to her mild complaint. The water she poured the night before is not the water she finds in the glass the next night. It’s gone a bit, well, dull might describe it. Aerated water tastes a dab fresher than day-old; no heat needed to evaporate out the oxygen dissolved in water. There’s also a bit more CO₂ in day-old water, making it taste a bit more acidic. Obviously none of this affects the safety of day-old water, since you’re still well enough to send an email. There are many more problems with long-term storage of water in plastic or metals or in poorly sealed containers. But that’s way beyond your bedside debate. So, here’s a hint for a cool Christmas gift for the wife: a bedside water carafe that allows you to put the drinking glass upside down like a lid. Not sure it will do a whole lot to keep the water young-tasting (if that’s the opposite of old-tasting) but at least she’ll know you’re thinking of her.

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