49 Left Hand and Right Hand
I was a 20-year-old nursing student in 1968, preparing to be a real nurse in a hospital. I was assigned as Chris's post-operative nurse.
Chris was an eight-year-old boy bundle of energy, who excelled in every sport he played. Disobeying his parents' words, he explored a neighbor's construction site, climbed a ladder, and fell, which got him a broken arm that later had to be cut off.
The first few days passed quickly. I provided Chris's physical care with forced cheerfulness. As his need for medication decreased, his level of awareness increased, as did his moodiness. When I saw how alert he seemed as he watched me bring in things for a sponge bath , I offered him the towel and suggested he take over. He washed his face and neck, then quit. And I finished.
The next day I said that he'd do his whole bath by himself. He refused. I insisted. He was more than halfway through when he sat down suddenly and said, "I'm too tired."
You won't be in the hospital much longer, I said gently. "You need to learn to take care of yourself."
Well, I can't, he scowled . "How can I do anything with just one hand?"
Putting on my brightest face, I searched for a silver lining in my mind. Finally I said, "Sure you can do it, Chris. At least you have your right hand."
He turned his face away and muttered , "I'm left-handed. At least I used to be." He glared at me, "Now what?"
Suddenly, I felt phony and insincere. How could I have taken right- handedness for granted? It seemed he and I both had a lot to learn.
The next morning I greeted Chris with a big smile and a rubber band.He looked at me suspiciously . Wrapping the rubber band loosely around my wrist, I said, "You're left-handed and I'm right-handed. I am going to put my right hand behind my back and keep it there by winding the rubber band around my uniform buttons. Every time I ask you to do something with your right hand, I will do it first, with my left hand. And I promise not to practice before I see you. What should we try first?"
I just woke up, he grumbled . "I need to brush my teeth."
I managed to take the top off the toothpaste, and then placed his toothbrush on his table. Awkwardly , I tried to get toothpaste onto the toothbrush. The harder I struggled, the more interested he became. After almost ten minutes, and a lot of wasted toothpaste, I succeeded.
I can do it faster than that! Chris declared. And when he did do so, his triumphant grin was just as real as mine.
The next two weeks passed quickly. We did his daily activities with enthusiasm and a competitive spirit. We buttoned his shirts, buttered his bread and so on. Despite our age difference, we were playing a game as equal competitors.
By the time my work ended, he was almost ready for discharge , and ready to face the world with more confidence. We hugged each other goodbye with sincere friendship and tears.
More than 30 years have passed since our time together.I've encountered some ups and downs in my life, but I've never let a physical challenge pass without thinking of Chris and wondering what he would do. Sometimes I put a hand behind my back and give it a try.
(By Susan M. Goldberg)