Saturday, 12 March 2016

My temporarily one-handed life

As I posted a few days ago, I recently seriously damaged my left elbow in a fall. The surgeon who replaced part of my elbow had to put me in a humongous cast in part to prevent the elbow from moving at all, and in part to immobilize the wrist I also broke. This leaves me temporarily trying to operate with one hand, since I was told not to attempt to lift more than the weight of three sheets of paper with my left fingers. Fortunately for me, I know this situation is temporary, which makes it much easier to cope with emotionally. I'm sure people who have permanently lost the use of a hand have much more significant issues. I'm not looking for sympathy; I thought some people might be interested in a few details:

 The cast itself is a serious issue. None of my shirts or cardigans will fit over it; we had to buy some second-hand shirts and cut the left sleeve. It puts me a little off balance, which is scary since another fall could be catastrophic. Because of the size and angle, I can't put it in a sling, which means walking around gets tiring for my upper left arm and causes aches. I can't fit it into a coat sleeve; we have to pull the coat up my right arm, then pull it over my left shoulder and hold it in place with the upper button. We can't pull the two sides close enough for any other button, so the cast sticks out and my front doesn't get much protection from the cold. I live in Ontario, so this is a big deal at this time of year. :( I have to walk very carefully, since bumping the cast sometimes sends an unpleasant shock down the arm. I can't risk getting the cast wet, so have to put a plastic bag over my left arm if it is raining outside.

Buttons themselves are a big issue; I don't seem to be able to even get shirt buttons fastened with the one hand, though I would have thought of that as a reasonably easy task. So I need help getting dressed; fortunately my son is at home and can help out a lot. Trouser fastenings are difficult, so I need to wear sweatpants. The ones I have are a little loose, so I have to hitch them up frequently when I'm standing. My father's generation (born 1905) used suspenders instead of or in addition to belts; when he lost most of the use of his left hand he could hoist up his trousers with the suspenders. But suspenders are ancient history in North American fashion at this point; I don't even know where to look for any.

Because of the restriction on how much I can do with my left fingers, I can't brace anything (which my father could do), which means opening some bottles is difficult, and child-proof caps are impossible. I can get my own juice; I can't get my own pills. I can't butter a piece of toast. But I can reopen cardboard boxes that have already been opened, so can get my own cereal for breakfast and make tea.

Typing is usually possible albeit very slow (so I bought a dictation program), but some gesture combinations are impossible. Control-L and many other common combinations are okay, but think about doing a shift-click with one hand (such as when you want to delete a consecutive range of files from a directory). Windows probably has some assistive technology that could help with things like this, but I have yet to track it down. The need to rest my cast on pillows, or at least on my lap, means I have to sit further from the computer, putting me in a different body position, so I need to relearn the ergonomics of minimizing strain on my back.

My doctor's first estimate was that I would be in this position for about 12 weeks; he will refine that estimate as he sees how rapidly or slowly I am healing. I'll need some rehabilitation after that, but many of the above problems should go away before too long. I hope a lasting effect will be gratitude for simple things I used to take for granted, like the use of two hands.