Monday, November 16, 2015

The helper hand

"Max, can you hand me the TV remote control?"

Max has walked into our bedroom to say hi. I'm sitting in bed nursing Ben, and I don't want to stop to reach for it.

Max leans over to my nightstand and tries to grab the remote with his left hand, aka the better functioning one. Because he can't fully open his fingers, it's hard to pick up.

"Two hands, Max!" I remind him. "Two hands!"

We are always reminding Max to use two hands. If he thinks there's a fighting chance he can retrieve something up with his left hand alone, he will. But if he knows he definitely needs to use his right hand, too—say, for a large ball—he will.

Max ignores me and doggedly attempts to pick up the remote with his left hand alone.

Therapists call his right hand "the helper hand," a phrase that makes me cringe. It sounds babyish for him. It makes it sound as if Max's right hand isn't its own entity, even if it it is weaker because the bilateral stroke Max had at birth was worse on his left side than on his right, affecting the opposite limbs. Oftentimes Max walks around with his right hand resting on his belly, like Napoleon Bonaparte.

I got a taste, a very tiny one, of what it's like to be dependent on one arm when I had a frozen shoulder last year. Getting on shirts was a painful workout, and I couldn't even raise my left arm to shampoo my hair. Still, mainly using his left hand is second nature to Max; he doesn't know any different way of existing. Luckily, determination is also second nature to him. Also lucky: Although spastic cerebral palsy can cause muscular pain, Max seems to have escaped that so far.

Finally, Max picks up the remote control with his left hand; his knuckles are white, he's grasping it so hard. With a big grin on his face, he hands it to me and I know what he's thinking: See? I can do it with one hand, Mom! Lay off me!

"Max, why don't you want to use your right hand?" I blurt.

He shakes his head at me.

"Is it because it's hard to use?" I ask. I know the answer, of course, except we've never actually talked about it before. It's part of the evolving conversation we're having about cerebral palsy.

"Yes," Max acknowledges, matter of factly. And I feel a little sad.

"You try your best," I say, and leave it at that.

The other day, I left the pantry doors open and walked to the fridge. When I turned around, Max had pulled out a box of brownie mix; he was holding it with two hands, and looking at me hopefully.

I can think of few more motivating forces in life than chocolate brownies.


  1. Good job Max. It's hard to make your body do things it does not want to.

  2. I think Max is trying to protect his low energy reserves by using his right hand only. This is the driving need of a phlegmatic.

  3. That picture is priceless! I say brownies are on the menu!

  4. I can relate. I would often resist all sorts of adaptations because I wanted to do things "normally," until I started *really* wanting certain things. Practicality tends to kick in when it gets you something you really care about.


Thanks for sharing!

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