A few years ago when I had carpal tunnel surgery on my right hand I wrote the essay below. I now am posting it because a good friend recently had the same surgery. I hope it will encourage him, or at least he will feel commiserated with. And since he already is one of those creative, left-handed types he can smirk if he wishes at the problems a right-hander had in trying to live left-handed for a change.
For three weeks I recently engaged in careful, deliberate thought before I took any action. Before getting out of bed in the morning, lifting a bite of food to my mouth, or even grooming myself I considered how important was the activity, whether it was worthy of the effort, and what was the best way to accomplish whatever it was I was contemplating undertaking in even the most menial of ventures.
No, I have not gone and studied with one of the philosophers of the east or begun a self-awareness program, nor have I entered a CIA training program to perfect my skills of detection, though I have gained considerable self-awareness during the three weeks in question.
What I did was fumble through my life for three weeks with a cast on my right arm following surgery for a carpal tunnel release and a repair to the tendons at my right elbow.
This one-armed experience is something many of you may already have encountered some time in your life, having broken an arm or otherwise injured yourself and had to wear a cast for weeks. However, I had been fortunate enough to not have broken any major bones as a child and only now have learned one of life’s great lessons, that is, it is a lot easier to survive in this world with two working arms and hands.
In the process, of my recovery I acquired considerable insight into how many small things we do in our daily life and take for granted being able-bodied and two-handed.
That is not to even mention the many obstacles to the lefties among us of which we right-handers also are totally oblivious. My brother, a leftie, predicted that as a result of the “cast experience” I would develop ambidexterity because I would be forced to not use my right hand. That did not happen, though I became adept at doing more things with my left hand I never thought possible.
My husband, a psychologist, predicted I would become more in tune to the creative side of my mind. As psychologists will tell you, the right brain, which controls the left side of the body, is associated with creative endeavors. So, my spouse speculated that being forced to use the more creative side of my brain to work with my left hand I would tap into previously unused creative cranial crevices. I do not know if that happened either exactly.
However, having my right arm in a cast did lead me to some discoveries. No one predicted how easy it is to become frustrated when the simple things one wants to do become extremely difficult (washing and styling one’s hair, zipping pants, or opening jars, for example) and in some cases nearly impossible (tying shoelaces or opening a can) without two hands. In exchange for the hassles and what easily could have become extreme frustration, however, I stumbled upon a number of unexpected benefits. When using only one hand, and that hand is your non-dominant hand to boot, I discovered one is forced to slow down, think through what one wants to do, and also determine the best way to accomplish the objective. There is no multi-tasking when one is doing things with one left hand. At least there is no multi-tasking for me under those circumstances. So, for example, if one wants to open a jar where the lid is tightly screwed on, or a childproof medication bottle, one can hold the bottle between one’s teeth, if the bottle is small enough, or between one’s knees if it is larger but not too slippery.
Of course, one could declare oneself he
lpless until the cast is removed. But I think that
would make the three weeks in a cast incredibly long not only for the
cast-wearer but for everyone around the cast wearer.
I made a number of other discoveries while wearing a cast. Before all of them fade into oblivion now that I have returned to the land of the two handed I thought I’d make a note of a few of them:
1) When I am not multi-tasking I have no problem recalling the exact word to describe a thought, feeling, or action. The short-term memory blackout I often experience disappears entirely when I am doing just one thing, rather than trying to do sixteen things at once.
2) Pantyhose cannot be put on with one hand, and there really is no reason to put it on anyway.
3) Some things are worth appreciating when you are doing just that one thing at a time.
4) We are more creative in problem solving than we ever give ourselves credit for in rushing to accomplish things.
5) A lot of foods are difficult to eat with your left hand when you are right-handed. But many types of fruit are perfect to eat with one hand.
6) IT IS GOOD TO HAVE A SPOUSE WHO WILL TIE YOUR TENNIS SHOES SO YOU CAN GO FOR A WALK, EVEN IF YOU HAVE ONE ARM IN A CAST, OR MAYBE BECAUSE YOU HAVE ONE ARM IN A CAST
Now I am left wondering if these insights will leave me since I am back to normal and rushing helter-skelter through life without any thoughtful contemplation of how to hold the object I am opening, how to go to the next room and take three things along with me as well as a coffee cup, how to hold a book and turn to the next page using only one hand. I also wonder, if when I have carpal tunnel release done on my left hand it will be easier because I will be able to use my dominant hand. Or will some of these same insights come back to me. And would it be a good idea for each of us to tie one of our hands to our chest or behind our backs, if even just for an hour and see if we can discover the answers to some of life’s little mysteries using one hand but both sides of our brain.