I’m back again. I was going to ration out my posts – believe it or not, these were written some time back – but I’ve decided to post everything I’ve got while I can. It’s also the only way I can motivate myself to write. So here are the Brachial Plexus Injury chronicles continued: I woke up from my mastectomy to find my left arm paralysed, and what follows is my attempt at finding humour and some sort of road map in the nightmarish days that followed …
I still remember the third day in the hospital, the nurse came in to find I had got my eye mask on.
She immediately thought I’d recovered the use of my left arm back and was suspicious when I told her it was still paralysed [I think it was beyond their experience that someone could lose the use of their arm in a mastectomy].
So I showed her how I managed to get the eyemask on. This is what I did: I held onto the main part of the eyemask with my teeth and with my right hand, pulled the elastic bit over my head – I was ever so pleased with myself. She didn’t look very convinced … I think she thought I was faking it.
My teeth became a substitute for my left arm and hand. But even that had limited uses.
Here’s a short list of things I’d like you to try with just one arm/hand to show you just what it meant to suddenly have to do everyday things with just one arm:
1. Putting on a shower cap
[Answer: use teeth to anchor plus working arm – best done when lying down in bed so if it falls off it doesn’t fall onto the floor]
2. Wrapping a towel around a head of wet hair
[Answer: no, not using teeth! One-handed origami with wobbly wet results]
3. Wrapping a towel around a body when one arm doesn’t have the strength to clamp it to the side of the body
[Answer: Not possible. Drape towel over shoulders and hold both ends with working hand]
4. Pouring shampoo into the hand (which is paralysed)
[Answer: since hand can’t flip round to present palm, pour shampoo instead onto back of hand and then scoop it up with working hand before it all falls off. Or squirt shampoo directly onto scalp and pray that oops the shampoo doesn’t all fall out at once]
5. Trying to pick up a heavy saucepan/bowl without handles with only the working hand
[Answer: don’t. Sod’s law is that the saucepan will be too heavy for just one hand. I dropped a pot of stew once all over the kitchen floor. Not pretty]
6. Tying shoelaces
Answer: I couldn’t do it. But OMG, I just found this YouTube video of an amputee tying a shoelace with one hand! I’m not sure why I didn’t find it before – probably because I could only type with one hand, and even typing the word “shoelace” made me grit my teeth:
Or just buy shoes with velcro fastenings.
7. Washing your right armpit when the left arm/hand doesn’t work
[Answer: still looking for the answer!]
7. Turning over in bed with a floppy arm that won’t move and just dangles like a deadweight
[Answer 1: turn over in bed. After awhile, realise floppy arm has started aching. Rearrange floppy arm with other arm. Answer 2: sleep with arm in sling and develop a numb arm.]
8. Putting on your knickers with only one arm/hand
[Answer 1: place knickers on floor. Step into knickers and pull up on either side. Answer 2: Lie down on bed and pull knickers up using working hand, doing a wriggle that can only be described as pornographic. Don’t wear knickers is not an option]
9. Using the peppermill/salt grinder
[Answer 1: place peppermill on small plate. Grasp top of peppermill between chin and chest. Grasp middle bit with hand. Twist. Ground pepper will collect on the plate. Answer 2: don’t bother with the peppermill]
10. Putting on a blouse with buttons
[Answer: lie down on bed. Line up buttons and holes. Slowly do up buttons one by one. It is possible, but slow. Make sure buttons aren’t tight. Or get shirt with poppers, or no buttons]
11. Taking off a blouse without buttons
[Answer: easier than doing up buttons – pull up from behind. It helps if it has a stretchy neckline]
12. Typing when you can’t lift the wrist or move the arm
[Answer: type with one hand, and struggle when you can’t do capital letters so every e-mail lks lik a txt]
13. Washing your face
[Answer: one-handed washing, or use a sponge]
14. Washing your hair without a shower, only a bath and plastic container
[Answer: slow, and you will miss spots]
15. Getting safely out of bath without a handle-support
[Answer: get into a squat position, and hold onto side of bath or bathtaps and pray you don’t slip.]
16. Picking up heavy cat who wants to jump onto kitchen counter
[Answer: develop incredibly strong muscles in working arm to compensate]
17. Putting on a pair of socks
[Answer: best done sitting down and not hopping on one leg]
18. Pushing a supermarket trolley when you can’t even lift one arm.
[Answer: fake it. Put paralysed arm on handle and pretend to be holding on]
19. Opening a can of beans with a can opener without the other hand to steady it
[Answer 1: using teeth, bite down hard on rim of can. Answer 2: Real answer – don’t know, didn’t try, didn’t eat much canned food after that]
20. Driving a car/changing gears/putting on the seatbelt.
[Answer: Don’t know. Can’t drive]
The world of elasticated and stretchy clothes suddenly became very attractive to me.
I lived for weeks in the same pair of trousers with an elasticated waistband.
My favourite blouse had poppers on the front instead of buttons.
The two dresses that I could get out of were stretchy wool so I could reach behind and pull them over my head with one hand and a desperate wriggle, like some sort of insect shedding its cocoon.
I began to despair that I was doomed to a world of old-lady wear. I worried that when winter came, there was no way I could get my arm into a winter coat because that would have required advanced yoga practice.
And to think that only days before the mastectomy, I was in a yoga class, out-doing the men in chataranga (that’s a push-up) and playing the piano! How life can change in a matter of minutes!
I recently came across a breast cancer blog. The author had metastatic breast cancer and the cancer had spread to her nerves and she ended up with a paralysed arm. I wish I’d come across this blog before, because it was the closest anyone has come to understanding what I was going through. She also had loads of tips on how to cope – I could have done with her tip on getting a panini press!
Her situation was much more challenging and she was also experiencing pain. I was very grateful, and still am, that to date, my nerve injury has not involved any pain. Small blessings!