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Navigating life with 1.5 hands


Life was not designed for any less than 10 fingers it would seem. A little over 2 weeks ago while preparing dinner for some friends, I sliced of the top of my thumb whilst (mindlessly?) chopping some leeks. I love leeks so there are no hard feelings, but at the time, I was of course, screaming bloody murder. Typically, it was the one day I had left my car in with the mechanic to be seen to, an extremely rare thing for me to do. I don’t tend to have the organisational skills to keep the car in check, rather, I send it in once something goes wrong. This was me trying to be a responsible adult, culminating in what felt like the universe pointing and laughing at me for my “ah it’ll be grand” stance on everything. It certainly was not grand when I was standing in the middle of my apartment with a portion of my hand missing, actually needing my car for a genuine emergency.
My initial reaction was shock at the sight of the top of my thumb on the chopping board. The adrenaline must have been pumping as I couldn’t feel a thing initially. But then, as I looked down at the injury and was met with what seemed like the entire contents of my blood flow pumping out of my finger, I naturally began screaming crying - like a child does when they fall over and there’s that brief moment of ‘will they won’t they’ (scream the place down that is), sometimes they jaunt along not a bother, but more often than not, the realisation of their hardship is met with banshee like screams - this was me.
Luckily, I wasn’t alone. Seriously luckily because god knows how I would have managed even picking up the phone while my only good hand had the sole job of ensuring I didn’t end up needing a blood transfusion by grasping my catastrophic hand. Nik, my boyfriend, basically threw a tea towel at me and ordered me to put pressure on the wound. Then for what felt like ages we both kind of hysterically shrieked ‘what do we do?! Do we go to hospital?? Shit we don’t have the car!’ What should have been a simple plan seemed all the more difficult at this insane moment. What do you do when all else fails? Call your mother, obviously. Nik rang my Mum and within 10 minutes, she was outside the door. 
I won’t bore you with the details of hospitals which followed. Although I will tell you, every medical professional I spoke to continuously referred to my case as an ‘amputation’, which to be fair, isn’t ideal when you’re clutching your severed thumb with a tea towel and have outrageous levels of adrenaline running through your body, it seemed an unnecessary hyperbole which only added to the anxiety of what lay beneath the tea towel.
So, here are the main things that I can now, from experience, assure you are extremely difficult without the use of your left thumb.

  1. Showering. When you have a laceration, in order for it to heal, apparently it needs to remain dry. This makes showering or washing your hands particularly tricky. My go-to has been a latex glove and a lot of duct tape. In the beginning this was somewhat of a novel and I enjoyed it. Now however, it’s gotten old and I loathe having showers. Which is a shame because normally I love showers as they put heat into my eternally freezing bones.
  2. Washing hair. The task of washing hair with one hand is an absolute rigmarole. There are so many aspects of this which make it tiresome. The squeezing of shampoo out of a bottle was not intended as a one-handed practice. Although my left hand is gloved, I still try to keep it out of the water, the malleable nature of water just means that under the glove just gets wet regardless (rolling eyes emoji). So you then must squeeze the shampoo directly onto your head; set down the shampoo and create a lather with your only good hand. Repeat with conditioner, if you can really be bothered.
  3. Picking up bags. My day to day involves picking up bags quite regularly it would seem. The type of bags with long straps which you throw over your shoulder. This is simply DANGEROUS when your injury is in the thumb region. I had an incident in work where my thumb got caught between strap and shoulder mid-fling, which resulted in the de-gloving of part of my dressing and a mild heart attack on my part. Shout out to my trusty colleague Zoe who speedily rectified the situation as I looked on in horror.
  4. Securing a towel after the shower. As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, shower time in general is just a barrel of laughs. Think about it. You get out of the shower and you have to put the towel I around you. Now think about trying to achieve that with one hand. Try it, it’s great craic.
  5. The Hand Break. Ok so it seems there is one action in everyday life which is left ENTIRELY up to your left thumb. The hand break on the car. Releasing or engaging the hand break is a job which was cultivated for your left thumb. Since my injury, I have instinctively started using my index and middle finger to do most things - which generally works. However, lifting the hand break with these fingers is so unusual, something no-one would ever intend to do because it makes absolutely no sense logistically. I have mastered it however and I’m delighted that such a contorted action helps me overcome the left thumb’s sole purpose in life: operating the hand break.
  6. Buttons. Well you can just forget about it. Buttons are near impossible (and I don’t use that word lightly). Any time there is a button involved, I either give up or persevere due to the desperate need for warmth (a common struggle of mine). Buttons can take me any time from 5-25 minutes per button. I am not joking.
  7. Turning Dials. Think about the dials in your car for the heat, the volume dial, the air vent selector. These appliances were all invented with your thumb in mind. Instinctively, you use your index finger and thumb to turn such dials. Not anymore for me! As mentioned, I’ve become rather handy with my index finger and middle finger and thus have fashioned a new way of using the knuckles on these two fingers to turn the dials, thankfully, as one of the only reasons I drive a car is so I can have a fan blow hot air on to my feet.
I often wonder whether my thumb will just fall into it’s normal old patterns once it has healed what with my new found dextrousness. I have heard the phrase that you don’t know how heavily you rely on something until you’ve lost it. So with that said, show your thumbs some love. You’d be surprised how much they do for you!
I’d like to thank the following people: my mum for acting as my ambulance. Nik for washing my hair on several occasions and chopping all veg since the incident. Doctor Susan for showing me how to change my dressing and consistently being available on WhatsApp to oversee the healing process. You guys are ace.

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