RA Daydreams: Ambidextrous World

Living with rheumatoid arthritis can feel like a nightmare, which sometimes leads me to daydream about things that would make this journey a little easier.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain and inflammation, both of which can be exacerbated by repetitive motion. Our bodies are not designed to stay engaged in the same task for hours on end, and even people without a disease can develop discomfort ranging from writer’s cramp to carpal tunnel syndrome when they spend extended periods of time using their pencils or keyboards. Those of us with RA generally have a shorter window of time before pain sets in, and we’re more likely to experience the ill effects for a longer duration than the general population.

It’s been decades now that I’ve wished I could use both hands equally well. I spent a fair amount of my childhood in wrist splints and ankle wraps. (In retrospect I’ve wondered if all the “sprains” I incurred were actually misdiagnosed symptoms of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.) When my right hand was in a splint, I experimented with writing with my left hand. Long before the advent of laptops in classrooms, I didn’t have any assistance from technological devices. When my right wrist was in a splint, I persevered through multiple choice and short answer tests using my left hand. In high school I had a long spell in a splint, and I decided I was going to become ambidextrous. I used my left hand to write as much as I comfortably could. However, a few weeks after my right hand was freed up, the effort and concentration of using my left hand eroded my enthusiasm, and I moved on to other interests. I remain decidedly right-handed.

While I wasn’t willing to put in the work to develop equal dexterity in my left hand, I’ve frequently thought of how nice it would be to have it. If I were ambidextrous, I would never have to abandon activities like ironing clothes or coloring and cutting paper crafts with my kids, as I could just switch hands when my right begins to protest. In the kitchen I could just as easily stir the contents of mixing bowls, handle pots and pans, and slice and dice with my left as with my right. This would make the process of cooking far easier on my hands, wrists and elbows if each side of my body could take a turn.

While the technology age has decreased the need for handwriting, I still use my right hand more than my left when using a computer. When I’m working on computer projects, the hours of mouse-wrangling can get my fingers so inflamed that I can barely bend them. If I was ambidextrous, I could switch back and forth between hands, giving them each a break. However, in these daydreams my wish extends beyond wanting ambidexterity in my hands; I want it in everything. For instance, my computer desk and keyboard could easily be reassembled Transformer-style so that the mouse and the number pad were moved to the left side. I could perform all actions as nimbly with my left as with my right, and with no greater concentration required. Each hand would receive breaks at regular intervals, increasing my productivity.

Furthermore, it would be so convenient if my car had an option where I could choose to operate the pedals with either my left or my right foot. That way when my right hip or knee is acting up and it’s painful to hold my foot on the brakes or the gas, I could just switch the car to “left” and give my right side a rest. After driving a stretch using my left leg, I could effortlessly switch back to my right without a hitch.

In this daydream, even social interactions are ambidextrous. When my right fingers, wrist, elbow, or shoulder is in a lot of pain, I could outstretch my left arm when going in for a handshake, and it wouldn’t feel awkward for either party. As this is a daydream, I’ll go ahead and add that everyone would magically know when a handshake or hug is so firm that it’s painful, and would stay on the comfortable side of the limit. In Ambidextrous World, we could all effortlessly transition from one side of our bodies (and our brains) to the other, building little breaks in for our dominant sides and equally distributing the load.

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