How to cope after breaking your dominant arm
January 25, 2005 4:38 PM   Subscribe

I broke my dominant arm on Sunday, and I'd like some tips for how to cope with the recovery process.

I broke both bones in my forearm, had a plate installed, and I've been told that I'll be in a cast for 10 weeks. What can I do to lessen the pain and inconvenience aside from elevating the arm and taking pain meds? Can I take my sling into the shower? Any naturopathic treatments I can do?

Also, I make my living working on the computer and typing with my left hand isn't very speedy. Would I be able to use a software product like Dragon Naturally Speaking with terminal software like PuTTY?
posted by cmonkey to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Naturopathic approach: there's not a whole lot you can do, but some particular homeopathic remedies may help the healing process.

Any of these can be found at your local health food store, and you're welcome to email me with questions/guidelines for taking remedies.
posted by Specklet at 5:04 PM on January 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

No matter what the OS you have, chances are you have some variation of 'StickyKeys', which lets you type key chord combinations (like Ctrl+v) sequentially, rather than simultaneously. It really helps with the one-handed typing.

It's under the Accessibility' features of your OS. It takes a little bit to get used to, but eventually will become second nature.
posted by spinifex23 at 5:25 PM on January 25, 2005

Welcome to the world of being one handed! I only have full functioning use of one hand, so I think if I was ever put in your position, I'd be screwed. :) I have no information specific to your case, but rather a few helpful tips on making life easier one-handed.

I wouldn't suggest bringing your sling into the shower, as the one's I have seen tend to not dry out quickly, and also smell. My suggestion? Wrap your cast in garbage bags and then duct tape it tightly around the edges to ensure the cast doesn't get any water on it. Better yet, take a tea towel (or any cotton bath cloth) and use that underneath the garbage bags to prevent water from hitting your cast. Casts can rot/crumble if exposed to water. I've also made temporary slings out of garbage bags in place of my sling for the showers.

One handed shoe tying. I don't use this method, but I was taught how to do it, and it's quite easy.

I've used Dragon Naturally Speaking, and unless you've used it for an extended period of time, it can be clumsy to deal with for the beginner. Some programs don't work well with it either, but if you're a good typist - maybe I can suggest a link to One-handed typing? I have used the HalfQwerty technique, but I prefer the method I use now. This might or might not work well for you. Place your four fingers on the "home keys" (f,g,h,j) and your thumb on the spacebar. I've learned to touch-type this way by moving my fingers around the keyboard but when at rest, go back to the home keys.

These are just a few of the ideas I've used in my life, but if you need anything else, my email is in my profile. Hope you have a speedy recovery!
posted by carabiner at 5:36 PM on January 25, 2005

Frogpad. It won't be that fast, but if you're a programmer you might find some elegant ways to speed up your typing (with programmable putty / emacs commands and such). And besides, then you'll have a blue tooth or USB keyboard that's really small. Which is bound to come in handy (npi) later on, when you're all better.
posted by zpousman at 6:51 PM on January 25, 2005

Take the pain meds as directed. Put several plastic bags over your splint/cast (don't know which you have). Better to just take a bath and not risk getting your splint/cast wet. If it gets wet, you have a higher risk for infection because of the moisture. Especially bad since you have metal implants. BTW, whenever you go to surgery from now on, make sure you tell the nurses you have metal in your arm. This comes in handy since we use a grounding pad, and need to avoid placing over metal. (Not that we usually ground over the lower arm anyway, but always good to know.) Invest in cheap velcro shoes. Find a really good friend to help dress you--especially fun if you are in a relationship! Plenty of rest. Be careful on the homeopathic stuff, check with your doctor's office first. You could have adverse interactions with the medications you are on. Make sure you diet has adequate calcium and vitamin D, (read--drink your milk!).
posted by 6:1 at 7:12 PM on January 25, 2005

Damn cmonkey, I am sorry to hear that. When I broke my non-dominant arm, it was a hassle enough, I wish you a speedy recovery. I had a friend who recently severed a tendon in a finger on his dominant hand and found that it was easier to teach himself one-handed touch typing than it was to futz with speech recognition software. Once your dominant arm isn't in too much pain, you can consider using one of those little trackball ring things [pictures upper right on that page] to get some use out of your broken arm.

With my sling, I couldn't take it into the shower. I had to wrap the whole mess in a plastic bag sealed in tape which was a hassle especially when it was still sore. I found that it was almost as easy to do a lower-tech waterproofing job and take baths and scrub off with my free hand. I would also strongly recommend either getting someone to wash your hair/shave you, or spending some money and getting your hair washed outside of the house once a week or so. It's worth the money to feel clean and it is hard to wash your hair well with one hand.

As you've probably already learned, troublespots are in areas like zippers, shoe-typing and shirt buttoning. Start making wardrobe choices that will see you through your one-armedness. For me the big secret to pain-alleviation was getting my sling adjusted right, strapped pretty close to me so there was less risk of bumping it on things, sleeping with a LOT of pillows around my arm to lessen accidental bumps, and taking painkillers [and/or meditating and just generally relaxing] right before bed. Remember that ibuprofen is good for swelling/inflammation as well as pain, so it's worth taking even if you're not really hurting.

Lastly, just having a constant injury will be stressful and as a result will be taxing on you. Even if you don't feel it now, give yourself a little more leeway and wiggle room with your schedule, your expectations of yourself and just your overall mood.
posted by jessamyn at 7:23 PM on January 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

Get off the pain meds as soon as you can, but don't do it cold turkey. I spent one of the worst weeks of my life last year when I decided to stop taking the Vicodin/Percocet I had been taking every day for over two months. We're talking sleeplessness, restlessness, loss of control over bodily functions, headache, depression, nausea, the works. If you're on pain meds, come off them slowly. Whenever possible, deal with a little pain and forego the meds. You'll save yourself exponential amounts of misery later.

Maybe look into those homeopathic remedies.

I took baths instead of showers and was able to get away without covering my arm in plastic. That said, some devices are okay to get wet. After my doctor decided a cast wasn't going to fix my badly broken wrist, I had surgery to install an external fixator, which I was even allowed to take into a public pool unprotected. Follow your doctor's advice on that one, chances are: don't get it wet.

On that note: make sure to keep an umbrella on you in case of rain. Keep the snow off of it and out of it. Cast rot stinks and can lead to some very nasty infections and fungal funkiness. Screw halitosis: no one will want to be near you with a rotting cast.

If you get itchy, be careful sticking things into a cast to itch your arm. They may get stuck, and you might need an emergency visit to have the cast removed and replaced. Then again, maybe that only happens to my youngest brother. Still, you might find that you've shifted around the cotton padding in there so much that you've cut off circulation to your hand, so again: be careful.

Above all, keep a good sense of humor, and keep a camera handy for when the cast comes off a final time. Your arm will no longer look like your arm (but it will return to normal eventually).

You might find out when it's all over that you don't end up reverting to the same two-handed methods you used before your injury. I found that putting my contacts in with one hand ended up being far more efficient than the two-handed method I used before.
posted by quasistoic at 7:24 PM on January 25, 2005

Start stretching your remaining forearm many times throughout the day. Spread all your fingers, wiggle everything around, clench your fist, repeat.

That arm / hand isn't used to the load, so you don't want to wear it out.
posted by icey at 8:22 PM on January 25, 2005

Something odd, but absolutely true. Lift weights with your opposite hand. Wrist curls, bicep curls, 2-3x a week.

When your arm gets out of the cast, you'll find that it's atrophied (shrunk) quite a bit.

But you recover faster and lose less....if you've been training the good side of your body.
posted by filmgeek at 8:31 PM on January 25, 2005

I broke my right forearm in the same exact way, back in 2001. Unfortunately, I don't have any great advice for coping with the one-armed life, since at the same time, I also broke (more like pulverized) my left wrist.

What I can tell you is that the recovery time on the right arm was much faster than the left; I was feeling much better by the third week. Also, I didn't have to do any physical therapy for the right arm. It pretty much just popped out of the cast and went right back to work. In the interim, I tried to use Naturally Speaking, but since I write technical documentation, I found the training exercises to be a bit slow, especially when industry-specific terminology was involved. I did much better with a split keyboard. Many of the ergonomic office supply websites have them, and I found that having the keys in a tilted position let me at least somewhat imitate actual typing...
posted by lilboo at 8:35 PM on January 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm not strongly right-handed, but still had some difficulties when I broke my right hand. Everything took a lot longer, and I got really frustrated with that before I decided I just didn't want to be frustrated.

Within a couple weeks, I got pretty fast typing one handed. I still mouse left-handed, since that alleviates my RSI, but it took a lot of Solitaire playing to get it down. Washing long hair one handed was very difficult - I never did get the hang of getting all the soap on the right side of my head out.

Cooking was interesting. Anything involving a lot of sharp knife work was out. I had to use a colander a lot more, rather than my usual (use the lid or a spoon to hold the good stuff back). I ended up doing a lot of bean stews (and chasing carrot pieces around the kitchen).

Driving my car was out - I had to rent an automatic for 3 months. I really hope you don't have that issue.

Basically, I found I had to slow down (especially when I started to think I had something down), think tasks through before hand to find where the problem spots were and generally take my time with things. And remember to laugh.
posted by QIbHom at 10:49 AM on January 26, 2005

Response by poster: I've decided to keep my painkiller ingestion limited to helping me sleep, I'm using tumeric and symphytum to keep the swelling down and bones growing, tying my shoes with that nifty one handed technique and getting a Frogpad as soon as I can.

Thanks for all the help!
posted by cmonkey at 8:31 PM on January 26, 2005

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