The Best Intentions…

People, in general, are a good lot. For each person we curse for cutting us off or not letting us merge onto the interstate, there are at least a dozen who don’t have a burning desire to intercept your lane of travel and another dozen who allow your car to gracefully slide into traffic with the other highway travelers.

Then there’s the well-intentioned stranger or acquaintance who goes out of his way to try to help but ends up causing inconvenience or harm. The guy holding the door open for you but inadvertently blocking your actual path elsewhere. The nice woman at the supermarket who moves her cart to let you by, but ends up barricading the very cans of soup you intended to collect. We like these people, too!

There are many of these people trying to help others every day. They’re great souls who instead of saying that’s a shame instead try their best to change someone’s situation for the better.

I am truly grateful for the people I encounter who make an effort to help others, but specifically me in this case. It could be someone bending over to pick something up to save me from crouching to be able to reach it (these knees aren’t getting any younger), someone handing me my glass of wine to save me from reaching (I’m amazed I somehow separated from the glass in the first place), someone trying to hand me change, or medical professional recommending a surgical procedure to help give me more “normal” arms or hands.

I had several such procedures in my early years. The last (and most complicated) was to relocate a digit in an attempt to give me a thumb. That didn’t work out too well, but I can position my hand to comfortably hold a can of soda with it, so it’s not a total failure! Before that there was an amputation of half of a digit coming out from another digit. Yeah… I look freaky enough; we don’t need that crap getting caught on every shirt I would ever wear!

Well before either of those surgeries (graciously provided by the Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia; seriously – if you’re looking for a charity to give a little gift, check them out) there was a recommendation to have me wear braces on my half-length arms to straighten them out.

Something about my condition that you should know about is that I don’t really have functioning elbows. They’re kind of fused to a single position so I have very little elbow motion. In my specific case, as in many others’, my arms were pretty much stuck in a curved position. (As you can imagine, reaching is a bitch like that!) So, a band of well-intentioned professionals suggested arm braces to try to straighten them out while I was still an infant.

I don’t remember much from my sub-one-year-old life, but I’ve heard that I was prone to break out of these braces every night… the cunning escape artist that I am. Fast forward a few years to when the braces were long gone, and I happen to have a left arm that is relatively straight and a right arm that is rather curved inward toward my body.

To be clear, I truly don’t know if there’s any merit to that story, or to a correlation of having one straight-ish arm and one curved arm, but as luck would have it, this is the best thing that could have happened given my circumstances! You see, while people were focused on extending my reach, there might not have been consideration for other daily actions so needed for an independent life. Feeding is a big one. Imagine having an arm permanently extended. It would make navigating food to your mouth rather difficult, wouldn’t it?

So we know we don’t want two permanently extended arms. But there is certainly a need for reaching. My right (curved) arm is fantastic for feeding myself and scratching my nose. The problem is, it’s both shorter than the left arm, but also permanently curved! I can’t even reach the zipper on my pants with my right arm let alone wipe my butt to clean myself with it (pardon the bluntness).

I became interested in this fortunate twist of events of mine some years ago and read that about a few studies and the experience gained in identifying the need for both a feeding arm and a toilet arm (or feeding and reaching arms, if you prefer). I like to think we’re always learning from our own and others’ experiences and using that knowledge to continue to improve our understanding of the world around us. Seems this is a case in point! While doctors were so kindly trying to extend my reach, it might have just been a bit of good luck that fell upon me to end up with both a feeding arm and a reaching arm, since they can’t each do both!

So here I am as a completely independent person who can both feed himself and clean himself! Pretty awesome. While the whole thumb experiment didn’t end up as everyone might have hoped, I can still take care of myself rather easily!

While this was a rather permanent example, there are others that occur every day and have trivial, if any, impact on my life. The kind man handing me the wine glass might also be holding the very spot I need to confidently accept it with one hand. The woman handing me change or other small and difficult items to collect will naturally hold them out with the standard motion to offer dropping them in my own hand. But she’d never know that I don’t have radial wrist motion. That is, I cannot turn my hand over to show my palm to the sky in order to collect that change. Instead, it’s much easier for me to take it from your own extended palm.

But who would realize any of that without experiencing it themselves, or interacting with someone of different abilities? It’s certainly a fun thought experiment to get ourselves out of our own existence and into someone else’s isn’t it?

I am so thankful for all of the kindness out there that we give to each other. While it doesn’t always end exactly as intended, it is that good intent from which we all benefit and continue to be better toward each other and ourselves.

Further reading:
https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/941917-treatment#d6
http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1681-150X2012000100006

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