Typing with One Hand

With luck, you didn’t notice, but for most of the fall and into the winter, I had a broken wrist, and had to type my columns and reviews with one hand. My right hand, as it happens, but no more convenient for all that. My right hand had no idea where the letters were on the left side of the keyboard, so I always had to stop and look. And when I moved my hand back to type a letter on the right side, I often would reposition it too far to the left or right, and type the wrong letter.

Typing this way seemed to take about four times as long. And I made lots of mistakes. No doubt, that made life more exciting for the kind friends who proofread the columns for me, and for my editor who has the ultimate responsibility for making my copy look presentable.

Communication with friends suffered. I maintain contact with most of them largely by e-mail, but the difficulty of typing discouraged expansive messages. My e-mails became terse, my signature reduced to a single “p.” And, I confess I used mostly lower-case letters, something I normally dislike as a hip affectation.

The reason for all this was that one evening last September, I was racing a bus to a bus stop, stumbled somehow, and went sprawling. I put my hands out to break my fall, and the impact broke my left wrist.

In pain, I took myself to a nearby emergency room. After prolonged waiting, X-rays, and more waiting, I was led into a consulting room, where a young resident attempted to reposition the bones manually. He numbed the forearm somewhat, warned me that it might hurt a little, and squeezed my wrist around, moving the bones. I winced in pain. “Are we still friends?” he asked. “Do what you have to do!” I said through gritted teeth. He repeated the process three or four more times, each time asking if we were still friends. Then, he put my arm in a splint, and sent me home.

The hospital’s orthopedic surgeon looked at the postadjustment X-rays, and announced, “We’ll have to operate.” I insisted that I wanted to wait and see if the manual attempt would be satisfactory, as it had been when I broke my arm many years before.

He shrugged, stating, “That’s not how we do medicine around here,” and put my arm in a cast. When he took off the cast six to seven weeks later, I could see that the surgeon was right: I couldn’t do much with my left hand, including typing. “OK, I conceded, “Let’s do the surgery.” “Told ya!” was all he said.

“What does surgery entail?” I asked. “We open your arm, scrape away the new bone growth, reposition the bones, and insert a metal plate to stabilize them,” he answered. “But aren’t there tendons and things in there?” I asked. “What about them?” “We just push those aside,” he answered. Oh.

After the surgery, it was back into a cast for another six to seven weeks, and more one-handed typing. Finally, the cast came off, and the wrist is regaining flexibility. I am typing this with both hands.

A couple of incidents at the hospital are worth sharing. Once, when I was in for an interim checkup, a staff member directed me into an examination room. As she left, she pulled out a semaphore attached to the doorway. Curious, I poked my head out of the door, and asked what the semaphore indicated.

“That’s just for us,” she said firmly. “You don’t need to know that. Go back in your room.” Not easily put off, I persisted. “Does it just mean that there is someone in the room, or does it indicate something else.?” One of the women standing with her started to answer, but the first woman interrupted, and said quickly, “Don’t tell him! They don’t need to know! The less they know, the better. It just leads to more questions.”

Then one evening, when I was leaving the hospital, I asked a nurse, “Can I get a cab around here?” “They can call one for you at the main desk,” she said. So, I walked down to the main desk. “I was told you can call me a cab,” I said. “There’s a pay phone down there,” the man behind the desk said, waving vaguely.

I started off, but realized I didn’t have any change. I went back, and asked if the man had change for a dollar. After the slightest pause, he said, “Yeah, I got change for the white man,” and pulled out some coins.

Nonplused, I thanked him for the coins, and started off again. He must have had second thoughts, because he called me back, punched some numbers into his telephone, and handed me the receiver. I ordered the cab, and thanked him. Later, he wandered over to where I was sitting, and said a cab was waiting outside.

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