The Problem with Ambidextrosity

(besides the fact that it isn’t really a word.)

Let us suppose for a moment, that, like Horatio Nelson, you lose the use of your dominant hand.

Sir Horatio Nelson when wounded at Teneriffe
Horatio Nelson losing the use of his dominant hand.
You don’t have to be as dramatic about the actual losing of use – though feel free to make up any kind of back-story you like; blood and  gore totally optional – the point at hand (hur hur, sorry) is how one copes with said loss of function. And this is where I am at a loss. Because while I have a reasonably active imagination (Exhibit A), what I do not have is a dominant hand.

OK, yes, if you break it down by activity, I do. Writing: left hand dominant. Swatting flies: right hand dominant. Ten pin bowling: left hand dominant. Cricket bowling: right hand dominant (although frankly pretty rubbish either way). Archery: left hand dominant. Brushing teeth: right hand dominant.

But then there are all the things I do with whichever hand seems handiest at the time: pouring tea, drinking tea, sewing, holding book… All of which makes it rather hard to intuit the difficulties inherent in losing one’s dominant hand.

So tell me: how would it affect your everyday life if you couldn’t use your dominant hand? Assuming that it’s still there on the end of your (functioning) arm, but not operating in the manner habitual to hands.
Which activities would be harder?
Which would be flat-out impossible?
Which things (if any) would be unaffected?

Fotothek df roe-neg 0006452 028 Autogenschweißer Harry Hänich
One-handed welding? Can do!
If you have found yourself in this situation, either temporarily or permanently, I would love to hear from you. And if you have a dominant hand of which you have never lost the use, I’d love to hear from your imagination.
For extra credit: what if neither hand was functional? (I am making the bold assumption that, like the majority of people, your number of hands does not exceed two – except when second-guessing yourself.)

Disclaimer: once I am enlightened on this matter, it is very likely to appear in a book. No direct quotes, no stolen stories – but on the other hand, no royalties either.

Thank you!

4 Replies to “The Problem with Ambidextrosity”

  1. Well, for a while there I had a semi functional dominant (right) hand, owing to over use. The hard things were, in no particular order:
    Hanging out washing – solution: use teeth and push on pegs. For some reason I couldn’t persuade my left hand to pinch the sprung pegs hard enough to open.
    Driving – just had to do it anyway, and put up with the pain.
    Scrubbing out pots and pans – solution: buy a whole new, very expensive set of non – stick pots, which are happily still proving to be worth the investment some 25 years later. Again, failed to persuade local family members to pitch in and wash said dishes for me 🙁
    Cleaning teeth – solution : managed to use the other hand, though hair brushing was less successful! Short haircut ensued.
    Cutting up food – solution : use an ungainly fist – grip, which is hard to shake off even now.
    Opening jars – solution : get various devices that grip the lids, or wait until husband got home.
    House cleaning – solution : abandon it!

    1. Clearly, when dominant hand is less functional, a horde of minions is required! Laundry-maid, chauffeur, scullery maid, personal lady’s maid (although they don’t usually brush their employer’s teeth), chef (with big choppy knife), and general house-maid would about do it, I think. Plus maybe a footman or butler in case none of the above could wrestle the jars into submission.
      Thanks for your input!

  2. I spent several months with restrictions on my dominant hand after shoulder surgery. I had practised some tasks ahead of time with the other hand, had stocked up some frozen meal portions in my freezer, and was able to get some initial personal assistance. However the agency did not allow housework assistance, so I had to wait for friends/family to do cleaning that required more than one hand.
    The washing line was the real killer, though- lifting, pegging and holding with just one hand, to a line at my furthest vertical reach. Slowly the recovery brought greater ability.
    More recently I broke both wrists, the dominant hand being worse. Managing a life in casts up to the elbow was difficult, and my non dominant hand learned to cope with taking the lead. Four months on, it still holds a hot drink more steadily.
    Ingenuity proved to be the answer in both situations. How can I do this, rather than I cannot do it.

    1. I am tempted to suspect you of having a secret life as a player in some high-impact sport. Mario Andretti broke both ankles at once, you broke both wrists at once…
      But that’s a great attitude: “how can I do this, rather than I cannot do it.” Of course, a horde of minions would probably have been useful too – if not so good for developing ingenuity and keeping muscles in condition.

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