Tuesday, June 13, 2006

It's a Two-Fisted, Right-Handed World

This winter, I read David Wolman's A LEFT-HAND TURN AROUND THE WORLD: Chasing the Mystery and Meaning of All Things Southpaw because I had invited him to be on my "Travel with a Twist" panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book. The book is fascinating, funny and densely packed with medical and scientific research--and best read when the mind is sharp and focused (i.e., not at bedtime). But truth be told, I read it somewhat as a curiosity. I'm very much right-handed, so most of what Wolman wrote about didn't apply to me.

And then I broke my right arm.

For the past six weeks, I have been exclusively left-handed, and may be so for quite a while longer. Suddenly the world is different: Doors open on the wrong side, and are too heavy. (And what's with having a turn handle on the door of a multi-stall public bathroom? I couldn't get out of the ladies' room at Whole Foods without inside help.) Even if I was recovered from the concussion enough to drive now, I couldn't turn the ignition key or shift gears.

I can't use my front teeth, so Zip-loc bags were impossible to open till the Boy Wonder used his blazing intellect and E.T.-like fingers to figure out how. (It still ain't easy, and no way if the bag is at all greasy.) But forget about opening a new bottle of vitamins, with its layers of safety features; or a 1/2 gallon tub of Dreyers ice cream (my fave); or a childproof medicine container; or a new plastic bag of cheese with one of those sliding seals; or a wide-mouth jar; or a can of food; or or or...

However, I've become a one-handed typing ace, thanks to long fingers and a smallish laptop keyboard. (My handwriting is nothing to brag about, though. On a good day, it looks like that of an 8-year-old; on a bad day, a 98-year-old.) It hurts my arm to bend way over, so when I drop something and the picker-upper gadget isn't handy, I use my toes, which are also long (thanks, Mom!). I amazed and impressed Darling Husband by picking up a jar top and placing it in his hand--twice. I can also use my toes to work the turn controls on our little floor fans.

As Wolman explains in his book, the left hand-right brain/right hand-left brain stuff of popular culture is mostly hooey. However, there are differences in brain activity between people who are predominantly right- or left-handed. Beyond being scrambled by the concussion and then painkillers*, I wonder how my brain has changed?

*I'm off 'em now, thank dog, and--go figure!--am thinking more clearly, much less dizzy and much steadier on my feet. Every Rx for Neurontin should come with a free cane.

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