The importance of thumbs

I’ve never given my thumbs much thought before. I know they’re important, I know they do a good job, I know that having opposable thumbs sets humans apart from most other mammals. I’ve just never really paid any attention to the tasks my two were actually performing. Am now.

This is because I’ve hurt my thumb – the left one. I’ve staved it, which I always thought was a Scottish expression until I googled it and discovered it’s pretty universal. It happened while horse-riding – basically we were popping over a few jumps, and all was going well until our rhythm got somewhat out of sync. In a move that was both unintentional and unfortunate, my thumb slammed into his neck at a speed and angle which proved distinctly deleterious to the aforementioned digit! 

A few years ago,  I broke my right wrist (uh yeah so that was also horse-related…I don’t bear grudges…). This came as a horrible shock to my left hand which had been happily bumbling its way through life, lending the occasional – hand – but basically happy to leave all the tricky stuff to its partner. Suddenly finding itself thrust into the limelight and being made to do the work of two practically sent it into a meltdown. At the time I wrote…

I’m beginning to wonder just what my left hand has been doing all its life. All these years it’s gone its own way, swinging blithely along at the end of my arm, quite content to let my right hand do the bulk of the work. I might never have noticed this  discrepancy, had it not been for right hand getting itself smashed up along with several other parts of my anatomy when flung unceremoniously from a horse into a stone wall. Now it’s encased in a heavy white plaster cast, and left is having to do a full day’s work.

Its first task in a public place – to sign my name as permission for the surgeon to do what he liked to right hand while the rest of me was under general anaesthetic sent left hand into a blue funk. Gripping the pen was bad enough, but when it was asked to create joined-up letters on the page, it crumpled under the strain. If a hen had walked through dirt then taken a casual stroll across the document, the result would have looked more like my normal signature. 

The whole experience has made me totally reassess my relationship with my two hands. I now see that I’ve taken Right for granted, just assuming it would get on with any and all of the myriad tasks set before it in the course of any one day. That meant everything from writing, to opening a jar, to brushing my hair, to operating a computer mouse. Lefty is fine for the sturdier and less imaginative tasks, like changing gear in the car, or lifting the kettle to pour water into a cup. But give it anything requiring the least degree of subtlety, and it turns into a bumbling idiot.

Who could believe brushing your teeth could be so complicated? Toothpaste up your nose is not a pleasant experience! However, we can all learn – even my left hand. After just a few days in the job, it’s beginning to get the hang of things. This morning only two dollops of butter were left on the breakfast bar, my clothes went on in more or less the proper order and facing the correct direction, and I managed to get right hand settled into its sling without throttling myself, so there is hope.

However – now that its thumb is temporarily out of action – I’m finding I may have been a tad unkind to my left hand in that story. It apparently does a lot more than I gave it credit for – as is becoming apparent multiple times a day when I go to do something – and find I can’t.  Getting the rind off a butternut squash is tough enough with both hands – trying to do it with one is impossible – and, as I discovered to my cost, using your left arm as a kind of clamp for said vegetable while endeavouring to slice off its tough skin – really isn’t to be recommended if you wish to emerge from the exercise intact.

Well they do say necessity is the mother of invention, so I am finding ways round this current difficulty. Getting my husband to do things for me is one option of course, but not always achievable… However I am particularly proud of my new (soon to be patented) method of applying deodorant – using right hand to spray both underarms.  If you don’t think that’s any great achievement – just try it for yourself – you’ll see!

Finally – Big thanks to my friend Rosemary Gemmell for giving me the blogger’s Sunshine Award! I think I now have to list some unknown facts about myself – so I’ll save that for the next post…