A Yankee Notebook, Columns

I Can’t Reach Very Far

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by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – During the 1950s I had a friend who was kind of quirky. We were both aspiring mountaineers and did some really nice hikes and climbs together. But there was this about him: He took the label off all his possessions because he didn’t want to provide free advertising to people he had paid already. He also tried to do everything with his left hand (he was right-handed) so that in the case of a calamity involving his right arm he’d still be able to operate efficiently. I always though that was a stupid idea – that in the event of said calamity, he could then start practicing with his left hand. Our paths diverged: I stayed East and he went West, and shortly afterward he was killed in an avalanche. So much for all that practicing with his left hand.

At the moment I am doing exactly what he did: using mostly my left hand because my right arm is in a full-arm cast. I can’t scratch my nose with my right hand, I can’t put in my right hearing aid with my right hand, and I can’t reach very far with it.

Breakfasts are a trial. In addition to eating left handed, I’m lying on my back, and conveying, for example, scrambled eggs on a fork or drippy oatmeal on a spoon across the horizontal space between my tray and my waiting mouth is perilous in the extreme. I console myself, however, with the thought that I am beginning to eat like a European and will soon rank with the classiest of French gourmets. if, that is, French gourmets end up with oatmeal all over their bibs.

Everything here is done sort of in miniature. Lying in bed, I want to adjust its angle. The control panel is on my left, by my left hand, which is free, but to push the button you also have to put the other fingers behind it to ensure not to knock it on to the floor. Ask me how I know. So I very, very carefully roll over in bed to my left (which, thankfully, has gotten less painful every day, now that the injury that landed me here in the first place has begun to heal.) Then in the semi-gloom of midnight I attempt to discern which of the six possible buttons is going to produce the effect I desire. I think I’m beginning to get it.

Then there are other more mundane problems. I’ve always brushed my teeth with my right hand. My teeth are used to it. Now it’s my left hand, and what a mash it makes of it. Very unsatisfactory. On top of which, here’s a challenge for you: Try flossing your teeth with one hand. And don’t tell me to get some of those flossers. They probably work fine, but I’m sick of finding them on the ground like cigarette butts and I’m damned if I’ll use them. I believe my cast is coming off shortly, which will make the problem moot.

It’s a little, I suppose, like being in prison. Stuck in the same room day after day, you find ways to come to terms with your situation. You can be gloomy, depressed, and withdrawn or you can look for bright ideas to occupy your time. And besides, this isn’t prison. It’s a place of healing and I must say I’m blown away by the speed with which mine is progressing. From a pain-racked sack of protoplasm that entered here not long ago to my present upbeat attitude: today I walked 200 feet with Hershel, and tomorrow I’m going for 560 around the interior track of the building. If there is not a column next week, you may assume I didn’t make it.

Meanwhile, outdoors the weather is springlike, at least for the moment, and I can see it coming. My daughter even sent me pictures from her game camera of Eastern Bluebirds who have returned early. So, although I’m sort of getting used to this mini-universe with its tricky buttons and mini-movements, I can hardly wait to be shuffling around my own house again with Hershel Walker and John McCane and finally some sweet day pushing down with both feet upon the clutch and brake pedals of my sweet Helga who is currently shrouded in her winter blanket in the barn. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Fings are wookin’ up!

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