Look Ma! Only 80% hands! Can’t open door…

Oh swell, and I mean that literally! I’m sitting here with three bluish-green sausage fingers and a club-like cast on my right hand. I broke and dislocated two fingers last week, and this is the result.

I can't get my remaining two fingers and thumb around a doorknob. Even if I could, they are too weak to turn the knob. Lever handles offer easier action for those with impaired hands, and who says they have to be ugly? Look at this fun collection of lever-style doorknobs from Italian design firm Columbo.

I’m trying to be philosophical, viewing my left-handed clumsiness and inability to use flatware as a learning experience.

It’s an opportunity to sharpen my appreciation of good ergonomic design and increase my understanding of my clients’ needs. As I transition into my interior design career, my chosen clients are aging boomers like me who are beginning to encounter some – ahem – issues. But, like me, they  are not about to knuckle under and opt for assisted living; they want to stay put and “age in place.” (For the record, I hate to ask for assistance, I don’t like moving and don’t really care to age any further.)

Actually, my bad break had nothing to do with aging. I tripped and face-planted on the sidewalk during morning rush hour because a guy who was hosing down the walk jerked a hose in front of me and tripped me. Why do they have to do that when hoards of people are crowding the sidewalk, anyway?

Oh, yeah, I had a bit more velocity than usual, because I was riding a Razor scooter at the time. (See, I told you it didn’t have to do with aging! It’s more like I’m Tigger, the Winnie-the-Pooh character who could not be “debounced“.)  Shall we be sporting and call this a “sports injury”?

In Search of Good Universal Design Features

I’m grateful for some good universal design in my immediate surroundings. Last year, I replaced the cabinet hardware in my kitchen, opting for easy-to-grasp “D” ring drawer pulls and knobs that stand high enough to allow chunky, stiff fingers to slide underneath them. At the time, I was thinking of my husband, who has large fingers and who suffers from arthritis. But just two days ago, my fingers were just as big as his, and considerably more colorful.

Chatchada flatware
Yanagi Taika flatware is designed with thick, round handles that help one to get a grip. This graceful flatware set is the winner of a Good Design and Red Dot awards. Photo courtesy of Remodelista.

Tabada flatware
Maddadapt II built-up handle stainless steel flatware with upper extremity weakness or reduced range of motion.

Soft, matte-finish natural wood handles have squared-off edges topped with a braided rope motif in stainless steel. Imported from France. Available from Nautical Luxuries.

To distract myself from the frustration I have been feeling, I searched for some design solutions for my problem. I could use some distraction; it’s no fun dribbling cold milk and soggy Cheerios down one’s cleavage while attempting to eat breakfast all back-assward and wrong handed.

My broken pinky and ring finger will heal in a few weeks, but a large percentage of older folks suffer constantly from arthritis, which makes it difficult to button shirts, open jars, tie shoes, and open drawers, and doors. I dedicate this post to them.

A Diary of the Difficult World

To paraphrase the name of a book of Adrian Rich’s poetry – An Atlas of the Difficult World – I have been traversing some pretty tough territory this past week.

Aside from the two trips to the hospital to have the dislocated fingers realigned and set (yeeeoowww!), I have also been on the phone with the police in Phoenix.

My mother, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, has been defrauded of her home, and thus, I’m getting to know attorneys, doctors, detectives, and neighbors in Arizona. Mom calls repeatedly, having forgotten little things like the detective’s phone number, or the fact that she has a savings account which contains enough money to allow her to buy food, even if her Social Security check has not yet been deposited into checking. (I’m keeping notes and will write a separate article about my adventure with mom and the con man.)

Then there’s the fact that the university where I have been working for the past six years is cutting my job at the end of this month. My hand will be healed before my benefits end, but I have cause to worry about the non-portability of health care.

I’m looking for a PR/marketing job in a green building or interior design firm, and have some good prospects. (If you know the good folks at Build It Green in Oakland, tell them to hire me! We’re a match made in heaven.)

Oh, yeah, and my mortgage is a wee bit underwater, as well.

Every day, in every way, I am practicing resilience and optimism. Practice makes perfect they say. (I’m surprised that despite this litany of inconveniences, I’m remaining a Tigger and not becoming rather “boggy and sad” like Eeyore.)

All the troubles above were in place before the bust-up on the sidewalk, and in some perverse way, having to focus my attention repeatedly on little things like figuring out how to use the shift key on the right side of the keyboard or how to button a shirt is a good distraction. Rather Zen, perhaps? And also an exercise in being grateful for the things I can do. (Turns out I can still turn out a fine watercolor rendering, for example. The paint brushes are long and very light weight.) Plus, I am so grateful that this impairment will last only about a month.

Tasks that Spell Trouble for Impaired Hands

These difficulties are faced daily by folks whose hands are crippled with arthritis or other hand impairments:

  • Turning doorknobs. I have to stand in front of the door and mew plaintively like a cat.

    No-Ha door handles
    Joakim and Partners of Belgium have invented a magnetic door closure that uses no visible hardware at all. You just push on the door. Photo by Joakim and Partners.
  • Putting on makeup. My friend Alexei came down the day after the accident to blow-dry my hair and apply my makeup for me; I truly felt like I was being prepared for a stage performance, sans grease paint.
  • Typing. (If my cast is lying on the end of keyboard, my fingers are dangling in the air half an inch above the right shift key. I have devised a six finger typing system that involves moving the whole right arm and pecking keys with the longest finger.)
  • Accurately pushing buttons on phones and appliances.
  • Closing buttons and zippers. (My husband Mason is getting unaccustomed practice at putting a woman’s brassiere on.)
  • Holding anything heavy – who knew that a hot beverage in a mug counted as heavy?
  • Holding a hammer to hang a picture.
  • Driving a car. The cast goes across my palm leaving too little finger-to-finger circumference to grip a steering wheel.
  • Riding a Razor scooter.
  • Opening jars. If they are big, I can wedge them between my cast and my right boob, then twist off the lid with my left hand. If they’re small, forget it.
  • Removing the lid of the toothpaste.
  • Replacing the lid of the tooth paste.
  • Spreading cream cheese on bagel (definitely a two-handed procedure!)

    Button help
    Yep, someone has invented a device to enable clunky fingers to close buttons. It's called the Good Grips button hook and it's available from Amazon.com. (Personally, I'm sticking with elastic and pull-on clothing for the duration.)
  • Sawing and cutting food with a knife, This task requires the use of multiple digits on two hands. (My friend Elisa cut my chicken when we went out for dinner on July 4th, and that hasn’t happened since my age was in single digits.)

Resource Links


Excerpt from Poem III,
An Atlas of the Difficult World

One of my favorite Farside cartoons on one of those now too-heavy mugs.

The spider’s decision is made, her path cast, candle-wick to wicker handle to candle,
in the air, under the lamp, she comes swimming toward me
(have I been sitting here so long?)   she will use everything,
nothing comes without labor, she is working so
hard and I know
nothing all winter can enter this house or this web, not all labor
ends in sweetness.
But how do I know what she needs?   Maybe simply
to spin herself a house within a house, on her own terms…

– Adrienne Rich


2 thoughts on “Look Ma! Only 80% hands! Can’t open door…

  1. Pingback: Your Garden
  2. Your experience mirrors my own, after I had hand surgery.
    I needed help from my adult children with getting dressed – “Kelsey, can you tie my shoes?” (I even bought some elastic waist pants, SO much easier to put on then jeans.) I left my bra hooked, stepped into it and pulled it up : )
    Driving, oh my! I did as little as I could get by with. Waited a month before I did a bike ride, didn’t want to damage the surgeon’s careful work.
    Opening jars. One day I was CRAVING pickled beets. No one was home and I couldn’t get the jar open. Frustrated, I gave in to some tears. (I know, I could have asked a neighbor, or something, but it wasn’t THAT big a deal.)
    Running errands and coming home with a handful of objects in my hands, while trying to find the house key on the key ring . . .
    All this makes me wonder what kind of adjustments our friend Misha had to make, after her eye surgery.

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