I had a bit of a scare recently. It gave me pause for thought, and the thought at the forefront of my mind was: “If I were to lose my left arm, how would this impact my ability to create my electronic hobby projects?”
Yes, I know that there's more to life than electronic hobby projects, but that really was the first thing that popped into my mind (and I use the term “mind” in its loosest sense LOL).
So here's how this all came about. About five months ago, I arose from my bed and meandered into the bathroom to get ready for work. Whilst brushing my teeth, I happened to notice that my left elbow was badly bruised.
When I say “badly bruised,” it's hard to convey just how bad it was — it looked as though someone had taken a sledgehammer to the little scamp. If I took my right hand and clasped the entirety of my left elbow, then that was the extent of the bruising.
I couldn't recall banging it on anything, and there wasn't any pain, but it did look pretty scary. On the other hand, bruises do tend to appear now and again, so I decided to wait and see what happened. Over the course of the following week, the bruise went through the usual color cycle — from brown to red to purple — and eventually it almost faded away.
But a week or so later it was back again! So I went to the doctor, who took some blood and sent it off for analysis to see if I had arthritis or anything obvious. The results came back negative, so the doctor said to wait and see if anything else happened.
Which brings us up to about a month ago, when one of the guys who works in the building where I have my office said “Your elbow is still bruised — it's been that way for months now — you really should have it looked at.” Now, he'd had a scare with a blood clot a while back, so he's hyper-sensitive to stuff like this, but what he said made sense, so I ambled back around to my doctor's again.
This time, my doctor referred me to a left elbow specialist. Apparently there aren't as many of these around as you might expect; it seems that most elbow specialists succumb to the siren song of the more glamorous right elbow, because that's where all the adulation and money is to be made.
After examining me, the left elbow specialist said “That's funny.” This made me quite proud, because I'd come to the same conclusion myself without the benefit and expense associated with years of medical training. The upshot of all this was that he set me up with an appointment for an MRI to take place on Monday (three days ago at the time of this writing). He also presented a list of possibilities, most of which had long names I didn't understand, but one of which certainly caught my attention — I'm sure you can guess what this was.
This past weekend — the one just before the MRI — I spent a happy time working on my Vetinari Clock hobby project. This little rascal is based on the use of antique analog meters, which will be the topic of this talk at ESC Boston.
Now, if you look at this YouTube video that I just posted a few minutes ago as I pen these words, you'll see the first elements in the wiring harness starting to appear.
Surprisingly enough, I haven't wandered off into the weeds; this is all relevant to the story at hand (no pun intended).
So I had the MRI first thing on Monday morning on the way into work. I'd forgotten how noisy those things are — and also how they cram you in; it's lucky I'm not claustrophobic. Later that afternoon, I received a call from the nurse at the left elbow specialist's office asking if I could come in the next day because the doctor wanted to discuss the results with me in person.
Now, you can call me a “Nervous Nelly” if you wish, but this did seem to be rather enthusiastic of them — I'm more used to weeks of delay when it comes to communications from doctors and suchlike, so same-day response made me wonder. Generally speaking, I'm a “glass half full” type of guy, but I must admit that I started wondering as to what the future held.
On Monday evening, whilst lying in bed, my mind turned to the wiring harness I'd been working on over the weekend. I don't know about you, but the inside of my head tends to be a bit chaotic, with ideas popping into existence and ricocheting around my skull with gusto and abandon.
My first thoughts were how tricky it was to do this sort of thing with two hands. Then I started going through all of the individual actions — stripping wires, soldering contacts, gathering and bending groups of wires, restraining them with ties — all the time pondering how one might achieve these tasks with only one arm at one's disposal.
My conclusion was that most of the tasks I take for granted would become major pains in the rear end if I tried to perform them using only one hand. On the other hand (again, no pun intended), others have surmounted far worse situations before me, so I determined that — if the worse came to the worse — I would learn the tricks of the trade and work my way around any obstacles.
I also thought of an episode from the classic TV series MASH — the one where a soldier who was looking forward to a career as a concert pianist after the war lost the use of one hand. He was in despair, until one of the doctors — Charles Winchester III as I recall, but it may have been Hawkeye — played some recordings and/or gave the soldier some music created especially for one-handed pianists. As a follow-on from this, I also considered the real-world story involving hard rock drummer Rick Allen, who has played with Def Leppard since 1978, and who overcame the amputation of his left arm in 1985.
It also crossed my mind that sometimes even having two arms is barely sufficient for requirements. Being a big science fan, I of course thought of The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. This is a really good “First Contact” tale in which the aliens — called “Moties” — have a large arm on one side of their bodies for heavier work, and two smaller arms on the other side for use in more detailed and delicate tasks.
I'm not sure if I'd like the Motie arrangement myself — although I can see how it could be rather advantageous — but I guess you'd get used to it over time. Actually, when you come to think about it, having two arms on each side would be quite handy (yet again, no pun intended). For example, you could be eating a meal using two of your arms to hold a knife and fork, while using your third arm to be texting on your smartphone, and still have an arm left over to scratch any itches that might arise.
Of course, should this somehow come to pass, the downside of my spontaneously growing two extra arms would be that I'd have to purchase a whole new wardrobe of Hawaiian shirts, but we digress… As it turned out, my left elbow specialist was just being ultra-efficient; he prides himself on offering way better service than you could hope to receive from a regular old right elbow practitioner. Although there is fluid in my elbow, and although we still have to track down exactly what's going on in there, the MRI has ruled out anything that would require radical surgery.
Phew! I have to say that I ended up feeling like I dodged a bullet there. But even after I discovered that everything is OK, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how difficult it would be to cope with only one hand. All I can say is that, for those of us who still have the use of both our arms, it behooves us to take a moment to ponder just how fortunate we are.
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