by Deborah Goldstein
Salem, Oregon, USA
I’m a Registered Occupational Therapist. I help people regain their independence after a stroke, accident or debilitating illness. I work with adults and I’m primarily concerned with helping them regain the ability to independently perform the normal activities of daily living. I visit them in their homes as this is the most appropriate place to practice dressing, bathing, eating, housework, etc.
One day I was assigned a new patient. I was surprised to learn that he was in his late 20s, since most of the people I see are senior citizens. I was even more surprised to find out he needed O.T. because of a job- related injury, as opposed to brain damage from an alcohol-related injury (the usual reason I see younger people).
I was greeted at the door by a friendly, confident man whose right arm was amputated above the elbow. I did my evaluation to find out what he could and couldn’t do with only one hand, his non-dominant hand at that. He wanted to know how to shower one-handed and still wash his remaining arm. He had questions about cutting his food when he couldn’t hold a fork. Both of these require adapted equipment, a bath brush for the first and a special rocker knife for the second.
He and his wife were happy to learn that it was that easy. I was happy for him. Among the many things that can’t be done one-handed, tying bows stands out as the most common. In the days before velcro shoe fasteners, there were a half-dozen types of adapted equipment to hold your laces snug. Most were awkward to use and needed a two-handed person to set them up initially. Some were prone to break, and all of them flaunted the fact that you couldn’t tie a bow. So when we got to dressing, I was prepared for the usual complaint about needing someone else to tie his shoes. To my utter astonishment, he announced that he could tie bows one-handed. I couldn’t tie bows one-handed, and I’d been an Occupational Therapist for 10 years. I didn’t know a single O.T. who knew how to tie bows one- handed. So of course I asked for a demonstration. He obliged, quickly tying a perfect bow.
When I asked how he had ever figured this out, he said proudly, “My wife did it.” She told me she had been devastated by the news of his injury and had decided to give him something to prove he could still be independent. She spent a whole day figuring out how to tie bows one- handed, and the next day she taught him.
Ever since that day, 15 years ago, whenever I teach someone how to tie bows one-handed, I remember that wife and her determination. She never wanted her husband to think he couldn’t do something because he only had one arm.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.