Someday I’ll have two good arms again, but not today
December 9, 2017 5:07 AM   Subscribe

Just as I am in the home stretch of healing from surgery to fix a badly mended collarbone break on my right side, another freak accident has disabled my left hand. I need help with: 1) cold-weather dressing for one good side; 2) making life easier with one good hand/arm (including tips or warnings from others who have had surgery to repair finger flexor tendons); and 3) staying positive and not losing my mind entering my sixth consecutive month (and at least two to go) of recovering from injury.

1) I guess after surgery to repair fingers (scheduled for Monday), the rehab involves continuous wear of a bulky and medieval-looking splint that holds the fingers in traction. Okay, but I don’t know how to get dressed around it now that iits cold and everything has long sleeves. I’m thinking front-closing vests will be helpful but I also need some kind of actual outer layer where I don’t have to pass the splint through a sleeve or cuff - are capes a thing? Does anyone make a decent-looking and truly warm poncho? I tend to like very structured, simple clothes (Zara, COS, Vince) and my cursory searching has not been encouraging. I’m fine with more casual and loose/boxy options; where should I even start?

2) You’d think I’d be an old pro at living one-armed during the miserable six months of collarbone break waiting and eventual surgery, but i didn’t realize how lucky I was to have the use of my hand and fingers on that side. Even typing this q is an exercise in frustration. My teeth are unbrushed this morning because I have not yet picked up a toothpaste with a flip cap and I haven’t figured out how to open a screw top. My waist-length hair is a nightmare to deal with and I am seriously thinking about about cropping it pixie-short so it’s easier to deal with. My fingernails are disgusting on that side and it makes me furious just to see them and be unable to clean them. Just so many little things I never thought about before. Do you have experience or tips with this, or know of any good resources for them? I want to be prepared and set myself up as much as possible to minimize the temptation to use my hand when I shouldn’t without real risk of damage and poor healing outcome.

3) how can I stay positive when I can’t work out, can’t get back to regular work or activity, can’t cook or do my beloved Christmas baking, can’t do so many things - again, just as I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel from my last injury? I’ve never been badly injured or had serious accidents or needed any kind of acute treatment before and these last few months are really stirring up a lot of frustrations, negative feelings and doubts.

I realize I’ve been enormously lucky to have been healthy so far in my life, and hopefully I will regain full function, which is lucky, too. So I’m trying to go about all this with at least a spirit of gratefulness - I just need some advice to make it all a little easier - thanks, guys.
posted by peachfuzz to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
That sounds awful. I'm so sorry. Think batwing sleeves or hack a sleeve on a sweater or coat if there's a seam you can get someone to carefully open it then sew it back up again when you're healed. Check out Ebay or online for a pre-owed cape and batwing tops. Ditto button-front dresses or two over loose elastic wait pants if you can't raise your arms. Here's a link to an online store place with "adaptive" clothing. If you have the means to get a helper once a day, get someone in to help you dress, wash your hair in the kitchen sink, etc. Here's to speedy healing.
posted by Elsie at 5:55 AM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I had my shoulder RC surgery I lucked upon knee-length tube dresses I could step in and out of at Old Navy, on sale for $5/ea. It's not warm weather wear, obviously, but something similar might be helpful around the house.

Before my surgery I asked a similar question, like others having the surgery. If you search for shoulder surgery you'll find a lot of great advice.

For coffee, I bought a cheap single serving machine I could operate with one hand. (One step up from my usual simple cone really, with less balancing.) I'm not a Kerig person but that might work for someone.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:12 AM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh no, I am so sorry! You may find a bit of advice in this previous ask (there's a bit from me in there).

In the immediate present ... I've opened toothpaste with a twist cap by holding the cap in my teeth and using my good hand to turn the tube part. I would definitely consider cutting your hair and donating it to Locks of Love. Consider manicures and pedicures to take care of nails.

Maybe voice recognition software to help with the typing?

Here's an example of a warm cape. One of the reviewers in the comments says they wear a down vest inside it on really cold days. If you check etsy, you will find a bunch of lined capes there. Some of the tops at the F. H. Clothing Company might work. Example 1, Example 2.

I will dig back into advice I got when I was operating one handed and post back if I think of other stuff. In the meantime, hang in there, this too shall pass!
posted by gudrun at 7:21 AM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Poncho or cloak for outer layer?

I'd call your doc office and ask if they have any resources to help you sort this stuff out. They may not but it can't hurt to ask.

I agree with getting in a helper once a day if you can. And someone to clean since that must be a nightmare to deal with right now.

If I knew you and lived nearby, I'd offer to come over and bake with you - I could handle the two-handed stuff and you could do whatever baking activities are manageable for you right now. So I bet you might have friends who would do the same.

If you don't have to wash your hair every day, consider going to a salon once a week or so? I knew someone with long, hard-to-manage hair who did this while dealing with a health condition that made it hard to stay on top of hair-washing. However cutting your hair would probably make your life a LOT easier, so unless you have a strong reason to keep it .. remember you can grow it out again later.

Here's a list of one-handed-activities intended for people adjusting to injury.

This youtuber talks - kind of sarcastically - about performing simple tasks with one hand. Her situation is different from yours but some of it might be helpful. Here's a Nurse on the Go video about getting dressed after surgery.

As far as dealing with not being able to do the things you love doing - that must suck. Would it be interesting to explore options that don't rely (much) on using your hands or moving your body - record yourself singing and harmonizing with yourself if that's your thing, listen to audio books you've always been meaning to get to (or read if you can find a way to do that comfortably), catch up on phone calls - call your aunt in Michigan you haven't seen in years for example, study a new language, take a Khan Academy course?

It sounds like you are able to walk okay - would you be steady enough on a treadmill or with a friend to walk a bit for exercise? You may need to check with your doctor before trying anything like that.
posted by bunderful at 7:24 AM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wish I had thought to cut my hair, excellent idea. Fuss aside, 8 weeks of neglect left it a mess.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:15 AM on December 9, 2017

DO NOT Use a treadmill. It isn’t safe if you can’t confidently catch yourself. Take 30 minute walks, as briskly as you feel safe.

A lined cape might be helpful. Also blanket scarves and/or cowls.

For help around the house, when people say ‘let me know if I can do anything!’ Have a list ready. A friend of mine isn’t having brain surgery next week and there’s a schedule of all kinds of things. Just say yes. Say, ‘yes, please bring Ken a hot meal and wash my dishes one day this week. Please also suggest these things _list_ to our mutual friends.’

This will feel uncomfortable and very vulnerable. Not everyone ian someone you want to wash your hair. But hopefully you have a partner or a friend that you trust with that task.

If you menstruate, think now about what your routine is for that, and how you might adjust it. Get alternate supplies now if you’ll need them. I haven’t tried thinx, but this might be a good use case for them, if your flow isn’t too heavy.

This might be a good times to cue up movies and line up friends I watch with you. I have to keep my hands busy while I’m watching a movie because I feel like I’m wasting time if I don’t. But somehow, sometimes, having a friend with me makes it ok you be more still.
posted by bilabial at 8:23 AM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Flossing: get the floss picks. I wish I'd thought of that when my dominant hand was in a cast.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 8:51 AM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Here's a recent previous ask: Care package post shoulder surgery. I put in the recommendation for a one-handed belt.
posted by ShooBoo at 9:40 AM on December 9, 2017

After an accident, I flew my sister across the country and had her stay with me so we could do Christmas. She made the cinnamon buns under my direction, bought stocking stuffers, and wrapped presents. Can you send for a Santa’s Little Helper of your own?
posted by crazycanuck at 10:30 AM on December 9, 2017

What a drag.

You can do a lot with your teeth in terms of gripping, but they can also be damaged. I held a barbecue fork in my mouth to stabilize food I was slicing. You can pick things up by pinching them between your inner arms or elbows, or between your upper arm and your torso. A rolling cart will be a huge help moving stuff around the house.

The Mile High CIL and the Atlantis Community are agencies run by & for disabled people. They usually have a "tech loan closet" where you can borrow gizmos designed for one-handers. Ask them to put you in touch with an expert one-hander to visit you at home and show you how to accomplish stuff—the fancy name for this is "peer volunteer support" and it's how I learned to drive a wheelchair.

Stroke survivors often lose the use of one side, so add that into your searching.

I wear a leather cape that's below my knees when I’m seated. This lets me layer up underneath with lapblankets and shawls of polar fleece. The traction device may offer many edges that snag on things—talk with the doc about how to prevent that.

In the medical system, the experts on "doing it differently" are occupational therapists (OTs), and you will be working with them extensively to rehab your hand function. Ask for a pre-rehab referral to ensure that you don’t impede your healing as you live one-handed until the traction device has done its work.

Best wishes! It's not fun, but you will learn a lot about what "normal" means in our society, and how a visible impairment changes your social role.
posted by Jesse the K at 10:36 AM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Depending on your insurance (yes, grrrrr, but unfortunately true), you may be able to have occupational therapy at home while you recover. You would also have to qualify for either physical therapy or home nursing, because OT can't stand alone in home health, but since you'll be recovering from injury and surgery this should be do-able. There should be a care coordinator in your surgeon's office that will know how to do this.
posted by shiny blue object at 1:28 PM on December 9, 2017

Capes are definitely a thing. Depending on how much cash you want to lay out, I got a classic-silhouette black wool-cashmere cape TWENTY YEARS AGO that is still like new and still hella warm and still great for winter wear whether it's freezing cold or I'm going to a fancy event and don't have a dress coat or can't crush my dress. (It was also awesome when I was pregnant and my coat didn't fit over my belly!) You could spend on a nice cape in a classic style that you wear incessantly now, and that serves you for the next 40 years when you need a dress coat in winter.

Does the hospital where you had the surgery done have a patient life specialist? (Or whatever they are called locally -- it's like a child life or elder life specialist, but for adults recovering from illness or injury.) Their whole thing is helping you cope with these kinds of challenges.

For the hair and nails, super common to go to a salon and have them do the hair care and nail care until you're healed. Doesn't have to be an expensive place, and lots of women do it when they can't maintain their own care for a while due to injury. They may have suggestions for week-long hairdos, where you can go in for a shampoo and style once a week (like our grandmothers did in the 50s and 60s) and you sleep in a silk cap to keep the hair in better shape during the week. I mean it's probably going to be braids bound around your head or something like that, but you can keep your hair and keep it from making you insane! You may need to give them instructions on being ultra-gentle with the hand, but they can deal with your nails. (The hospital may even have salons they can suggest, sometimes they work with some for exactly this kind of situation.)

Regarding minor tasks at home, you could pay a local teenager $10 to come over every night (or every other night) for 20 minutes -- $5 if they live a few houses down! -- and get your dishes in the dishwasher, put some toothpaste on your toothbrush like you're Prince Charles, and perform a couple other small tasks that are hard with only one hand. I took these sorts of jobs when I was a teenager, and it's a good job -- you feel responsible, you're helping someone who needs help, you're getting paid for trivially easy tasks. At 15 I totally had the skills to load a dishwasher and put toothpaste on a toothbrush and reach things from high shelves and open jars! (I babysat, and I loved babysitting, but "come by for a couple weeks to lift heavy stuff for someone recovering from surgery" was a way easier job and paid better! And even at that age it felt good to be doing work that someone needed done, not make-work.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:44 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lay one sock on the bed, slide your good hand into it about 3 inches. Use your good hand to slide the sock over your foot to the arch, then pull it on with the good hand the rest of the way. Use a plastic bag over the bad hand for slipperyness putting on clothes. 3/4 length sleeves are good for casts and etc. Raglan sleeves make putting on easy right up to the smaller part but the bag will make that easier. Use stretch fabrics. Everything will get easier in a week, and then easier so don't cut your hair if you don't need to. Best to you.
posted by Oyéah at 2:41 PM on December 10, 2017

Childproof tops make prescription pill bottles impossible to open with one hand. Ask the pharmacist to use a different top for your meds, one that you can open with one hand.

You don't want to carry an entire month's supply of pain pills, for example, around with you. Ask the pharmacist for a correctly labeled smaller pill bottle to take a day's supply with you when you leave the house. I've been told it's illegal here to carry prescription meds without a properly labeled container.

If you have young children at home, cancel the above and figure it out with your pharmacist.

Those non-childproof pill bottle tops come open pretty easily. Put your small traveling pill bottle in a ziploc with a slider closer. You can open and close the slider easier with one hand than the "squeeze together" bags and the slider stays closed better. That way when the non-childproof top pops off you're not picking your prescription meds out of the bottom of your backpack.

Sit down at a table and put down a terry cloth towel on the table before opening your pill bottles. It's easy to have little pills rocket out when you open a pill bottle one-handed and it's *literally* a pain to crawl around looking for them.

Get a pair of these Fiskars Easy Action scissors. These scissors work for right or left handed cutting and are super sharp. About $8 at Walmart. So when you're trying to open that plastic package of sliced meat and cheese and can't tear off the plastic perf you can cut the package open with these instead of putting it in the sink and stabbing it awkwardly with a butcher knife. Ask me how I know.

Pull top cans are hard to open all the way with one hand. Get a $7.99 seal puller from Harbor Freight. With this tool you can get most pull top cans open wide enough to get the food out.

Get a light weight plastic coffee / tea mug. Pain throws off your balance. If you drop the plastic mug you won't have to sweep up broken glass. Ditto a plastic drinking glass.

Have an open shoulder or tote bag around. A reusable grocery bag may work. Use it to carry things around over your shoulder instead of carrying them in your hand, especially on steps. Put your book, ereader, spare shoes, whatever in the bag to move them around the house. That way you always have a hand free to catch your balance.

Eat an apple every day.

Ask for help. Accept help.
posted by jointhedance at 3:31 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Disposable Paper plates and plastic forks and knives. You don’t always have to use them, but they will prevent a lot of dirty dishes to pile up. It’s just a few weeks, and I’d you feel guilty you can make it up by giving up a car trip or two. Are it as easy for yourself as possible, you’re healing.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:33 PM on December 10, 2017

Also, a small rolling suitcase with a telescoping handle is great when you're out and you need to take stuff with you. I put my laptop bag, etc. in the suitcase because it was easier to roll the suitcase than carry the laptop bag and everything else I needed. I stuffed gloves, phone charger, hat, etc in the outside suitcase pocket.

If you're using public transit Transit app is your friend.

Hope your surgery went well today.
posted by jointhedance at 11:04 AM on December 11, 2017

Found some videos demonstrating useful techniques for
zippers, shoe-tying, jar opening, holding the baby, mowing the lawn and more from Robbie, a one-armed graphic designer & blogger.
posted by Jesse the K at 2:38 PM on December 14, 2017

Every single one of these answers contained something that helped me and I am so grateful for the kind and considerate advice and commiseration. The plastic bag trick for getting dressed, though - omg. This has saved my life, or at least has saved me from totally giving up on making myself look presentable, which strangely has helped me be a bit more positive and try harder to make other daily-life functions work. Thanks, all, from the bottom of my heart.
posted by peachfuzz at 5:54 AM on December 19, 2017

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