Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Sound of One Hand Eating

Leave it to me to end up with a food-related injury. While lunging after a Béquet caramel that fell under my desk, I balanced my entire weight on my left hand while grabbing the candy off the floor with my right, in a sort of a one-handed downward facing dog. The next morning, my hand and wrist were painfully swollen from my acrobatics, so I went into the emergency room at Brotman.

The area between my left thumb and my wrist was so puffed up that the doctor could not tell from an x-ray if I had a fracture or not, so I ended up in what the staff optimistically called a splint. It was in reality, a mini-cast. I was instructed to not use my left hand for about a week, and accessorized with a stylish sling in basic black that kept my arm elevated at a right angle. Although the pain had gone away shortly after the cast was applied, I had to maneuver for several days with my left hand and arm almost totally out of commission.

It is fortunate that I am right-handed. I could still do things like drive and go to the gym, despite a number of modifications to my exercise routine. I can type well enough with one hand, but was maddeningly slow and needed to proofread my words even more closely than usual.

Dina Dini, assistant vice president of development,
Marymount College (at left) and me,
as we portray bookends at San Pedro's 1st
Thursday Artwalk. Photo by Brenda Solomon
I cheated a bit because I could, using the four free fingers of my left hand to prop things up or gently push them where I needed them to go. I discovered how useful one’s knees can be in opening bottles of water. And I eventually managed to take photos and save them for future blog posts. My good hand didn’t shake any more than it normally does when I am holding a camera.

On top of all this, the experience of having a physical impairment also turned out to be a real social leveler. The cast proved to be a great conversation piece. Everyone had an injury story to share, whether it had been their mishap or someone else’s. In the same way that you start to notice a certain type of car when you acquire one of them, I began to see my fellow walking wounded everywhere. People of all ages with braces or casts on their arms, crutches, and walking boots came out of the woodwork. Sometimes we would simply acknowledge one another with a look or a nod. Or if the situation presented itself we would commiserate, assessing our respective levels of injury. 

The uninjured were equally curious as well as empathetic of my condition, which was obviously not bad enough to leave me bedridden, but serious enough that I needed to have my arm in a sling. I reassured them that it was temporary and that I was never in any pain – it did look a lot worse than it actually was.

As it turned out, there were about a half-dozen people in my circle who were suffering from various injuries at the same time I had my cast. It seemed as if the universe was telling us to all slow down and pay attention to what we were doing.

Being in the moment takes on a profoundly different meaning when that moment includes making sure that I don’t strain my intercarpal articulations while putting my seat belt on, or while stirring a raw sugar packet into my tall Americano. It also makes me a bit more empathetic when I see those whose physical “limitations” are of a more permanent nature, and who, despite these limits, live their lives to the fullest. In addition to the mental exercise of trying to function as usual with my cast, it was an education in learning how one would actually live with only one hand. 

Work of art: Dylan at LACMA's Coffee + Milk

While the feats of Para Olympians and people  with disability who create art are amazing, we tend to overlook the average person who lives with disability. Unless we are privileged to have a closer look at their lives, whether through a family member or friend, we can never really know what it’s like for them to enact the most ordinary tasks, which many of them do without help.

Although my friend Dylan has for the most part, the use of both hands, he does not possess the same level of dexterity as most people. His movements are minimal but amazingly efficient, despite having having cerebral palsy and then suffering a stroke three years ago. I could not help but think of him when I tried to scrub my elbows in the shower – again, you’d be amazed what you can do with your knees – or maneuver my usual multiple tote bags of daily necessities.

To celebrate the liberation of my arm from its plaster prison, Dylan and I went to the new Coffee + Milk café at LACMA. As GMS’s official Hand Model Extraordinaire (See his debut here!), he presented our post-breakfast, pre-lunch snack of the café’s signature Elvis Cake. The mini-layer cake, which is coated with peanut butter icing and topped with bacon crumbles and a banana slice, is a homage to the King’s favorite sandwich. We consumed it with a mixture of shame and glee.

Dylan and I laugh about how wait staff in restaurants tend to be over-solicitous toward him, plying him with self-conscious attention and extra napkins, and replacements to dropped forks. We joke that they seem to ignore my beseeching look that signals my need for more water or bread. Male servers and restaurateurs often address him as, “My friend,” or “Big guy.” While it’s meant to be kind, I can’t help but think that people say things like that to mask their discomfort at encountering someone who reminds them of the fragility and the vulnerability of human life.

At LACMA, we were surprised that the observation deck above the Metropolis 2 installation was not accessible. I almost gave up, but Dylan was persistent and ambled up three or four flights of stairs in order to view the miniature representation of L.A.'s auto-choked universe at best advantage.

Bacon is the new chocolate: C + M’s Elvis Cake is
a hunk-a-hunk-a bakin’ love.

Dylan manages to open those hermetically sealed Trader Joe's salads, the ones I always break my nails with when hurriedly trying to get at their contents. He knows how to use an espresso machine, a device that is a total mystery to me. And I still am amazed when I remember how he climbed to the topmost row of the stadium seating at the Pacific Culver, simply because that was where my nephews wanted to sit to watch, ironically, the film, “Up.” He made it to the nosebleed seats with one hand on the rail and back down again, hanging onto my nervously stiffening arm. But he did it.

Having known Dylan has made me even more aware of the difficulties in movement that the disabled and elderly have to cope with on a daily basis. But it has also made me more aware of how helpless many disabled people truly are not, despite their physical limitations. Almost anything is conquerable, given a sense of humor and a good attitude.

Except, apparently, for the odd runaway caramel. It wasn't even one of my favorite flavors (Chipotle, if you must know.)

No comments:

Post a Comment