At 10:02am on Saturday, February 23, 2014 I officially became old.
X-ray of surgical plate to correct a comminuted fracture of my right distal radius
As I left my house to take my dog Asali for a walk I noted that the front steps were blocked by snow. I’d been working hard throughout an unusually harsh winter to keep them clear, but a recent thaw— it had been 48°F the previous day— had caused snow to slide off the porch roof and pile on the steps.
My treacherous front steps, a disaster waiting to happen
Asali scampered down at the end of her leash while I tried to negotiate the snow. With my first step I knew it was no longer snow, but had turned to ice again because I was instantly airborne. My reflexes are sharp, and my arm shot out to break my fall. Unfortunately, my full weight came down on my right wrist, and it was the only thing that broke.
I stumbled back to the front door where I passed out. When I came to my first thought was, “Where’s the dog?” She was sitting right beside me, waiting for me to wake up, a very doggish way to behave. As I began to recover from the shock, I drove myself to the hospital to verify what I already knew. I would soon be adding yet another image to my ongoing x-ray self-portrait project.
Selfie of cripple with dog
So I say I became “old” after a grandma fall at the tail-end of a brutal winter, but that’s only half the story. What comes next, what follows any such injury is the nightmare of living one-handed. It took awhile to fall into a routine. For one thing, a preliminary procedure failed, and I ended up back in the hospital after two painful weeks in a splint to have the wrist plated and pinned. I realized that medicine is an oxymoron, doomed to inflict an equal or greater amount of pain on the unwitting victim in its efforts to cure or correct his initial illness or injury.
Sectioning grapefruit requires sophisticated skills
With a hand injury, the preponderance of simple activities fall to the uninjured hand. I broke my pen hand, so I resolved to learn to write with my left. This isn’t a serious burden until tax time rolls around. And paying monthly bills is challenging for awhile. Opening a box of cereal, or unwrapping a soft caramel is akin to one-handed dressing: one’s teeth come in handy. But try to open a can, cut meat, or section a grapefruit one-handed. And tying shoes begets a fusillade of maledictions.
Cutting meat’s strictly a two-hand job
One-hand driving is not difficult; many people already drive that way. And left-handed texting is almost a cultural norm by now. But showering’s little fun, and sleeping is positively hideous, especially in an elbow-restricting splint. To say nothing of making the bed before sleeping!
Employing the third hand while dressing
Upon searching the internet for “one-handed enabling devices” I find mostly entries for smartphone applications. This is too bad. I can now see the benefits of one-handed devices for floor-sweeping, can and bottle opening, snow-shoveling, cutting, juicing, tying, snipping, unlocking… the list becomes enormous. How come no one’s figured out how to make a one-handed zipper? This would be a boon, especially when you are leaving home in the morning with an armful of stuff.
In the meantime, I imagine I’ll have plenty of opportunities to improve/invent some of the simpler items in my home, starting with my ***damn uncomfortable unpadded splint. My brother’s a contractor, so I’m aware of third hand tools, but they won’t do me much good. If you hear of any others, please send the news along. I’ll be working on a growing inventory over the next six weeks.
David Stairs is the founding editor of Design-Altruism-Project.