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Monday, December 16, 2013

One-handed Living

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 helpless 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.
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.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Missing Myrna Loy

Last night we watched “Love Crazy”, one of those screwball comedies from the ‘40’s with Myrna Loy and William Powell. They are a young couple, Susan and Steve Ireland, celebrating their fourth wedding anniversary. Shortly into “Love Crazy”, Loy’s mother shows up unexpectedly and, among other more serious consequences, she ruins the young couple’s anniversary plans.

I can never watch a Myrna Loy movie without thinking about the time I missed meeting her. Much like Myrna Loy in “Love Crazy”, I was a young newlywed when something unexpectedly threatened to interrupt our plans.

On a Sunday morning the phone rang with an offer to meet Myrna Loy in a small gathering. The get-together was to welcome Ms. Loy to the local chapter of the United Nations Association. As a recent college graduate I had been the student representative on that Board and one of the Board members invited us to the house party she was hosting that afternoon for Ms. Loy.

 My young husband and I already had fallen into the Sunday routine of sleeping late and taking a long afternoon walk with our dog. Ignorant as I was, I had never seen a Myrna Loy movie and knew her name only vaguely. I made the excuse we already had other plans.

Spoiler Alert:  In “Love Crazy”, as a result of the mother-in-law’s sins of commission and omission, and a little questionable behavior by Powell, Myrna is convinced her husband has cheated on her and files for divorce. Nevertheless, Powell and Loy remain in love. And Loy, despite Powell’s numerous crazy antics, remains convinced of her husband’s sanity. Eventually, the young couple reconciles, but not until Powell is committed to the “looney bin” to delay the divorce proceedings. Powell then escapes to reconcile with his lovely wife.

Throughout the movie, Myrna Loy is so elegant and  beautiful you have no doubt Powell’s crazy measures to try to regain his wife’s trust are worth  his humiliation. Together the two actors demonstrate the impeccable timing and comedic talent that brought them such success in other movies, most notably the “Thin Man Series’.

Not too many years after I blew the chance of a lifetime to meet the most elegant Myrna Loy, we lived in the Washington, DC area and enrolled in a classic film series at the American Film Institute. Soon we fell in love with classic films and actors of that era. Myrna Loy was one of the actors of that period who jumped off the screen as a larger-than-life talent.  

Today is the twentieth anniversary of Myrna Loy’s death. While I still regret missing Myrna Loy in person, I’m very grateful we can appreciate her on screen.

NB: I did consult Wikipedia to confirm the details of “Love Crazy” (1941). Unlike Kentucky’s esteemed junior Senator I found no need to copy anything therein.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


At age 62 it’s not unusual to have a few aches and pains. The only people my age who don’t have any pain are dead. And I have good reason to have a few aches and pains. Life takes a toll and then you are dead. I think Warren Zevon said something like that.
There have been numerous surgeries to correct problems. Carpal tunnel and tendon releases, spinal surgery for severe arthritis, shoulder surgery to remove a bone spur and repair a rotator cuff tear. The latter the result of walking two dogs who both saw a squirrel, make that two squirrels, at the same time.
And then there are the minor things, some of which are the most painful. A little strain in my ankle, that seems to only hurt at night. And bursitis of the hip, following adoption of a puppy who required an unusual amount of chasing after. Either that or I’m just getting old and forgetful of what chasing after a puppy requires.
I know this starts to sound like a litany of complaints about physical ailments. But there is a moral to the story—or at least a metaphor.
The good news, or so I thought, was that along with liberal doses of cortisone by injection in specific, particularly painful areas, water exercises, lots of physical therapy, and regular doses of Celebrex, a non steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAI) that seems to dial down the pain, most of these conditions were manageable. Then I developed stomach problems.
After six months of discomfort and other unmentionable gastric symptoms, I had the medical equivalent of an insider’s tour by the gastroenterologist: an endoscopy and colonoscopy. I was due for the latter test anyway since my mother had been diagnosed with colon cancer at a young age.
I won’t bore you with the unpleasantness of the procedures or preps. But I will mention that the medical staff assured me of two things in advance. One, the gastro doctor in question would answer all of my medical questions before I was sedated. And two, a very light anesthesia is now used and I would be awake and alert moments after the procedure.
Not really on the first one. The gastro doc did speak to me before hand, but that was while I was in the operating room, me on my side, with tubes and so forth inserted, and he, with his back to me as his dictated and reviewed my medical chart on a computer. As the nurse was inserting a plastic retainer-type thing in my mouth, the good doctor asked: “So—you take prescription strength vitamin D?” I gurgle what I hoped sounded like a “yes.”
After the procedures I was awake and the gastro dr said to me and my husband only two words, “Everything’s fine.”
But then as we left the hospital the nurse gave me a card that said I had gastritis, with some other unreadable, hand-written words, and an instruction sheet that stated what I might to do to make the gastritis better.
At the top of the list was stop taking NSAI’s. The other things on the list were all things I don’t do: eat spicy foods, eat late at night, and drink large quantities of alcohol.
So my conclusion was that my beloved Celebrex, that had eased life’s many aches and pains, was to be a thing of the past. I had stopped taking that medication several days before the procedures since it has to be taken with food and I hadn’t been allowed to eat for the day of or the day before the tests.
Already nearly every body part: neck, shoulder, arm, hip, and feet hurt. As well as my stomach.
And as far the quick acting anesthesia, two days after the tests, as I studied the dishwasher and tried to remember how to stack various dishes therein, as if it was a new and exotic mental test,  I realized I was still experiencing slow-thinking, apparently the result of the anesthesia. So much for the anesthesia wearing off more quickly than the old, slow kind.
During and after the tests I had taken to watching “bad TV”. You know, the sort you don’t really want to admit you watch. Everyone has their favorite bad TV. I found myself drawn to the Bruce Willis “Die Hard” series of movies. But in my mind’s eye I kept thinking about a movie, “Lost Horizon”, which had fascinated me as a child.
A plane crashes in the remote area of the Himalayas. The crew and passengers are rescued by a group of hearty, beautiful, and young locals who take the survivors to their gorgeous village. Some of the survivors are hell-bent on getting back to civilization. As you can imagine, though, some of the survivors decide they like Shangri-La and even fall in love with one or another of the beautiful villagers. The problem occurs when some of the survivors do both, that is, try to return to civilization and also take some of the beautiful, young villagers with them.
SPOLIER ALERT: The surprise ending occurs when one of beautiful young villagers who actually is an old lady dies suddenly of old age after she leaves Shangri-La.
You may wonder why I’m doing a review of an old movie in the midst of a recitation of aches and pains. Well, Shangri-La is analogous to me on Celebrex. No, it didn’t make me beautiful or young looking. But it sure did make me feel a lot less like an achy, old lady.
When I stopped the medicine I felt like I had suddenly aged several decades and was ready to fall over, or at least get a walker and start acting like an old lady.
But unlike in “Lost Horizons” this story has a sort of happy ending. I recently say my dear, primary care doctor, who actually sits down and talk to me face to face about my health. She suggested that I try taking a generic acid reducer for the gastritis and then see if with that medicine I can resume Celebrex.

I know that all medicines have side effects and possible problems. And I don’t take any medicine without considering its risks and benefits. But for now, until I find Shangri-La, I may try following my primary care doctor’s advice. As for the gastroenterologist, I don’t plan to make the one month follow up appointment. If I need a doctor with that specialty in the future I intend to ask about his or her communication skills and whether the doctor will actually look at me when we talk.