Monday, September 16, 2013

A Helping Hand

When I was five years old, I took a tumble down my great-grandmother’s back door steps, upon which she sat the glass Coca-Cola bottles she collected and returned for their deposits. As I fell, my right arm slipped under the jagged edge of the only bottle that had burst the night before due to a hard freeze. As soon as I stood up, I realized my arm, close to the wrist, had been flayed. I had a gaping wound with blood pouring out of it. Each time my heart beat, a nice squirt issued forth from the main artery.

Although the story of how I arrived at the hospital is one for the ages, it’s not what is important here. After waiting a long time for the ER doctor to decide what to do about such a terrible injury, I ended up undergoing a grueling surgery that resulted in 55 stitches. I remember the doctor telling my mother that the scar would fade, but I’d never be able to use my right arm again. By the next morning, I was already drawing with my right hand, but to this day, 34 years later, I still have that ugly scar.

In truth, the scar does not bother me. The fact is that I never could tell my left from my right until I cut my arm. After the fall, all I had to do was remember which arm the scar was on to know the difference. This little secret was how I often won drill downs in band! Unless I turn my arm a certain way, people never even notice the scar, so I’m very glad that the doctor got it wrong. Given a choice, I’d take the scar over not being able to use my right arm any day.

Over the years, I often wondered, though, if all the damage and scar tissue in my right arm would one day cause me problems. Growing up, about once a year, my arm would get sore and seize up on me; eventually that once a year turned into twice a year as I got older. Still, the problem only ever lasted a day or two, and things would go back to normal. I figured I was home free, but that’s just not the way things work.

About a year ago, a little knot started appearing on the inside of my right wrist. I noticed the knot got worse the more I graded, but during Thanksgiving and Christmas, when I could rest, the knot would go away. In January, it returned, but this time, pain accompanied it. I dealt with the pain for as long as I could, but during the summer when I have to teach both composition and literature classes, the knot and the pain reached epic proportions. Not knowing what to expect, I visited a specialist.

The diagnosis wasn’t what I expected. Honestly, I thought that it was a cyst that would have to be removed, but it turns out that I have something called “De Quervain’s tendonitis,” a condition where the tendons are inflamed and the sheath that protects them becomes irritated. It doesn’t sound so bad, but believe me, the pain sometimes makes you want to gnaw your arm off at the elbow to get rid of it.

Even after going through therapy, inflammatory treatment, and injections, the problem persisted. My week off between summer and fall terms did nothing to alleviate the knot or the pain, which started feeling like I had doused my arm in Icy Hot. Imagine your arm feeling like it is on fire all the time! I knew it was time to revisit the doctor, and as expected, he scheduled me for surgery.

The surgery itself does not worry me…much. According to the doctor and my research, the surgery will not be bad and does not take long. However, recovery can take some time. Because I have become so right-arm dominant over the years, the recovery and its repercussions scare the daylights out of me. At age five, I used an arm with 55 stitches in it the next day, but I’m older now, and this is different. My right arm may be out of commission for several weeks.

So, to get myself ready for the inevitable, I have started practicing doing things with my left-hand. First, I tried writing with it. A kindergartener’s writing is much more legible than the chicken scratch I produced. Next, I practiced typing with one hand. Although it takes forever, I can do it, but I become increasingly frustrated the longer the message gets. Next, I rehearsed opening and closing doors with my left hand. Ever try using a key with your other hand? I also discovered that I will need people to tote my groceries, carry my laptop to different classrooms, and wash all the dishes. Housecleaning with one hand is out of the question. Heck, I cannot even punch numbers on my cell phone very well.
Yet, the worst part of this deals with bathroom issues. I will have to get a head start on any potty trips I need to make because it takes such a long time to unbutton my pants and get the zipper down with my left hand. Yesterday, I cataloged how many clothes I have with elastic waistbands in order to avoid buttons and zippers! I don’t have enough! All of this pales in comparison, though, to the worse debacle of all: wiping!

Wiping is a must, and our ancestors really should be given credit for having survived without Angel Soft or Cottonelle. Having grown accustomed the fluffiness that is Charmin, I just knew that wiping with my left hand would be a snap. It isn’t. Don’t believe me? Go try. I’ll wait… See! Told you so! Now, imagine several days of that! Isn’t a pleasant thought, is it?

To be truthful, while the wiping is an upsetting reality I’m about to face, the deeper heartbreak is knowing that I will need others to do things for me. I’ve always had an independent streak, and I firmly believe that no one can do the job I need done better than I can, and while that has often led to me being overwhelmed at times, this disposition is one of the qualities I like best about myself. I don’t like depending on others; I even drove my own self to the hospital to have my son.

This hospital trip, though, my husband will have to drive me, unless I can figure out some way to escape unnoticed afterwards. (Shouldn’t be too hard, right?) I’ll also need him to pick up my medicine and do a lot of what I will not be able to do for myself. He has already informed me, though, that wiping is out of the question!

The thing is that while this surgery is minor and may cause a few weeks of aggravation, it’s only a precursor of the things that come as we age. In our infancy we are completely reliant on others for our well-being, and as we get older, we become dependent again. I don’t want that for myself. I want to be one of the ones who still gets up at age 90 to go out for a three-mile walk before going home to clean up my own house. I can see that.

So, while I may need a helping hand (or ten) over the next few weeks, here’s to hoping that it won’t become a trend in my life. After all, who has time for that?