Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Breaking Barriers

In "Getting Better vs. Getting It Done," I wrote about the struggle to use my affected hand in performing daily activities. A comment on the post prompted me to ask "Why don't I use my left hand?"
1. I’m afraid of breaking something. With my unreliable grip, I once dropped a glass bottle of sparkling juice. Which leads me to…
2. I don't want to cleanup a mess. I tried holding the cap of the laundry detergent in my left hand while pouring the liquid with my right; the cap tipped, spilling detergent between the washer and dryer. Which leads me to…
3. I’m tired. Using my affected hand requires more concentration. If I'm tired, I'm less likely to push myself. And I'm more likely to be tired if I’ve had incidences like #2.
4. I'm in a hurry. Using my left hand slows me down, especially if it results in incidences like #2, which can follow #1 and are more likely to happen if #3.
5. I don’t want to hurt myself. My finger sensitivity is still minimal, so I don't reach into dishwater to grab a knife, or try to pick up the lid of a pot on the stove. I’ve been doing simple ironing, but I practice first with a cool iron. This only works because I'm not #4. I might have all my Christmas napkins put away by Labor Day.
6. Inability. There are things I can't do yet – like open my fingers when my arm is stretched above my head.
7. Habit. After 23 months, I'm on autopilot with my right hand and assume #6.
Now that I know why I don't use my left hand, I can develop strategies to break these barriers to progress. Awareness of a problem is the first step toward its solution.


  1. No therapist is going to get me to put something in my hemiplegic hand that will make a mess if I drop it. I know what you mean about the insidious impact of habit. I don't trust myself to remember to try new movements at home. So every time I go back to OT or PT I run home and find a way to incorporate every new movement into my routine while I'm still excited about it. As an OT I was happy to see small gains, but as a stroke survivor I need intermittent encouragement to stay the course.

  2. This reminds me of results that I have read about hand/arm therapies and whether you are more/less effective if you lose your dominant side vs. the non-dominant side. I lost my dominant right arm and it makes me practice really hard to get back those movements. I'm not sure that I'd be as motivated if I had lost my left side - I would try to use it but the motivation would be different.

    -Lori K.

  3. Lori - good point. I have a problem when my OT uses my unaffected hand as the baseline for where my affected one was pre-stroke. You now what, though? My left hand has always been a weak uncoordinated thing, nothing like my dominant right hand at the time of the stroke. In fact, reaching weak and uncoordinated with my left hand now would be a triumph.

    Marcelle, #3 contains good info - even without being tired, it takes much more concentration to do anything with my left limbs. I can't imagine anything coming automatically to that side again.

  4. Thanks for the breakdown. I might be able to remind myself to counteract them. I have another, I can open lever doors with my affected hand but it requires my good hand to be free to assist, and I have to peel it off to release. So carrying cups of coffee just doesn't work.