I’m still not used to the new order of things around here. Last night I erroneously told a friend I’d be able to meet her for coffee this morning before I make the half-hour drive to my parents’ house for the holiday. But what was I thinking? There’s no way I can sit in a wooden chair for an hour before I make that drive. I could do one or the other, but not both. I keep finding more ways, daily it seems, in which I can no longer operate like a normal person. Not only can I not sit comfortably for more than fifteen or twenty minutes, but I can’t do anything that requires the use of strength or pressure with my right arm, and I am right-handed.
We do a lot of mindless stuff with our dominant hands; I had no idea how much of my life was right-sided. I [used to] pour milk with my right hand. I eat with it. I wash and brush my teeth with it. I put keys in locks with it. I had been vacuuming with it, holding the vacuum in my right hand and the cord in my left and vacuuming the room from left to right. I tried to reverse that, vacuuming with my left hand, and I kept running over the cord. I empty the dishwasher with my right hand. I cook with it. I brush my hair with it. I put earrings on with it. I iron with it. (Try to iron with your non-dominant hand. It’s fun, especially with the added bonus of potential serious injury should you mess up.) I put things in and take things out of ovens with it.
Here in the U.S., we live in a right-sided world; everything that can be is designed to be done with the right hand. Go look at your microwave. I bet the controls are on the right and the door swings to the left. It’s likely your clothes dryer is configured in much that same way. Which side of a soda machine do you stick your dollar bills in? Look at your ATM the next time you use it, and the position of the card slot and and keypad. Or the grocery store checkout line; notice how having the belt to your left accommodates loading it with your right hand. Think about the last set of double doors you went through, and which one you picked. Few people realize how heavy main doors are; you have to engage your shoulder to open the front door to a building. Try reaching across your body to pull open a right-side door with your left hand. It’s awkward. I wish every door was PUSH instead of PULL.
I’ve suddenly become aware of motions that haven’t interested me since I was three years old. As I slowly accommodate myself to the full extent of my injury, the list of things that I must now engage in carefully, if at all, continues to grow. Much of it is probably temporary, but what if I had damaged my shoulder beyond repair? I’d have to undergo a wholesale life reset, probably with a steep learning curve. When people think of injuries forcing someone to use their non-dominant hand, they think of writing, or driving, or some other prominent task, and they forget about all of the little one-handed – dominant-handed – mundanities we take care of without noticing it.
In this limited-capacity life I’m living, little things have become large things. Much occurs in our lives that escapes our awareness, and with good reason; we can’t dwell on the little things because we have to focus on the big things, things that need attention, time, and energy. But when everything needs attention, time, and energy, the dynamics suddenly shift, and microcosm becomes macrocosm. I’ve been transported to a child’s world, so diminished in scope that I have time to notice – and wonder why – my microwave door opens to the left. There’s an odd sense of discovery to living like this; it’s as though I’ve turned a microscope on my activity. I’ve found a level of complexity and detail I’ve never seen before.
Even when your life shrinks, it grows. Once I was able to tear my eyes away from the big things I’ve lost, I could look anew on the little ones I’ve been able to keep. It’s shown me that even minor movements are actually a full set of delicate, carefully timed maneuvers. Small discoveries are potent, and the mundane becomes awesome and strange. Spend a day watching yourself do things like buttoning pants or flipping pancakes, you’ll have a new appreciation for how intricate your life really is.
*special thanks to christellsit for the idea for this post