The sound of one hand typing

Anatomy scheme of a Fiddler crab (Genus: Uca) ...
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We are back from St. Louis with the usual list of traveling mercies and horrors, and trying to catch up with the backside of our task lists. so I will take the easy way out, and post an essay I wrote back when I was bilaterally symmetrical in mid-March, for a Floyd press and Star Sentinel column that saw the light of day on April 21. Now, I’m scrambling to meet the deadline for the next column due no later than Monday and I had best get busy. Travel pictures and tales coming soon…

I’ve been around the writer’s block a time or two. Pretty much every morning for nine years now, I’ve plopped down at the keyboard and waited more or less patiently for ideas to become thoughts to become words, and for my hands, the executors in this process, to typeset the related sentences and paragraphs on the digital page in front of me. Something usually emerges, at least a base-on-balls, for the blog or for this column or some other destination.

I tell you this because, as I sit here in the middle of March, I am without traction. I am a deer caught in the headlights of approaching deadlines. What I see bearing down on me in two weeks I am sure will provide ample personal experience about which to write. The twin problems with this impending adventure are: one, that it is wholly a ME experience; and, while I’m not shy (as you know) about telling personal stories, I am reluctant to wallow in my own tribulations on a public wailing wall.

Secondly, and most significantly, I won’t be able to write about this episode in my life at all–at least not in the usual, morning-habitual, automatic pilot sort of pattern to which my head-hands-and-eyes have grown so accustomed.

The hand part of the equation is the issue. One of mine is going to take a vacation. We don’t know how long it will be away.

Let me be quick to tell you that this is, at least from the surgeon’s point of view, a routine outpatient procedure. The “basal joint” of the thumb is a common site for wear-and-tear arthritis. Mine is worn and torn sufficiently to need repair in such a way that (they don’t quite promise me) I will not whine and whimper quite so much after it heals up. I imagine a time when I will be able to do buttons and play the guitar again. (I’m sure, though, with a written excuse from my doctor, that I will never be able again to do the dishes ever again.)

It’s the course over months of healing and recovery that is the great unknown. To someone for whom (relatively painless) typing has become a kind of voice, I’ll be speechless for weeks–maybe months. And it is finally sinking in how convenient and efficient it has been to be functionally bilaterally symmetrical in all other realms of daily life for lo these many years.

As the future fiddler-crab of Goose Creek, I am appreciating that any day this April won’t find business-as-usual here. I will be limited. I will be dependent. I will be the sound of one hand typing.

It has taken me years of whining to bring me to chose this major detour, blundering by a sort of orthopedic forced march off the calendar of predictability into the potholed territory of rehabilitation. Think about it. When does one decide it is convenient to take on the world single-handed for a few months: during the long season of wood-cutting and stove-tending or during the six months of grass mowing, weed-whacking and gardening?

So here in middle-March, knowing what lies ahead, I’ll use the chain saw for the last time until Fall, getting in enough dry split wood while I still can to last until June. I’ll put the screens in, be sure the mowers are ready for her to operate, and do what I can to get this year’s garden ready, even though this season, the hoeing, raking and such will be beyond my reach, so to speak.

I can at least meet writing deadlines early–the ones I can plan for–like this column for April 21. Since January, I’ve been training my speech-to-text software to clumsily dictate what I want to say during the handicapped weeks. I find this immensely frustrating. It’s like trying to leave an essay on somebody’s answering machine. I’m doing good to make a complete sentence when a recorder of any sort is listening. The words that sprint so effortlessly through my fingers stumble all over themselves as they exit my mouth, like greyhounds in hip-waders.

So I will be briefly pitiful and worthless around here, a short-term servant of handicaptivity. But I’m betting that, like physical therapy patients I have worked with after this surgery, I will wish I’d done this thing years ago. Meanwhile, I’ll find creative uni-dextrous ways to get up and do what needs to be done. And in May and June, find my column right here–after the sound of the beep.

Handnote: The cast comes off  on May 9!

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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