Show Me How!

by Deborah Goldstein
Salem, Oregon, USA

Show Me How

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.

Originally published as HeroicStories #154 on June 23, 2000
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.

1 thought on “Show Me How!”

  1. I have half my left forearm (birth).
    I was very fortunate – my parents explicitly ignored it.
    They let me figure out how to solve my problems doing things with one hand.
    There were a couple of exceptions: I occasionally had a prosthetic. My dad was into bow hunting. He made a bracket that screwed onto the prosthetic, and attached to a bow for me to shoot.

    In grade school, once a year the teacher would ask me to get on her desk and tie my shoes for the class.
    I love velcro shoes. I’m on my 5th pair – each last a couple of years (LLBean)
    There are a number of books for those with one hand that show how to tie a shoe with one hand.

    My boots have hooks. I tie the laces once, then take the top lace and unhook it when I take them off, then rehook to put on.

    I can, and have done a lot of things. Football in high school. Rock climbing, skiing, hiking, others. I build houses for a hobby. I type 40-50 WPM. I am an embedded systems engineer. The projects I was on has touched everybody in the world who made a phone call from 2000 for at least a decade.

    The key is attitude. If you think you are a cripple, you are. If you think you have a hobby, you will do fine. Humor is important. I have a (sic) second-hand shop filled with (sic) off-handed puns. My mother’s favorite was “My parents wanted 1.95 children”.

    I would encourage any OT to bind up a hand and operate with one hand.

    My name is “bandit” as in the ‘One Armed Bandit”.


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