Tip #580: A Time to Grow New Brain Cells

“Truth, like surgery, may hurt, but it cures.”  Han Suyin

Research has shown that using your non-dominant hand will grow brain cells and also enhance your creativity. I’m glad to know this, because I’m going to be testing this very soon.

I need to have surgery on my right shoulder- and my right hand is my dominant hand. I’ve been cautioned that I won’t be able to use my right hand at all for two weeks and that my right arm will be in a sling for a number of weeks.

Since I injured myself over six months ago, I have been using my left arm as much as possible, simply because my right arm hurts so badly. However, in recent months I’ve started to practice using my left hand with greater intentionality to perform those daily tasks that, until now, I have always taken for granted: dress, brush my teeth, make food, pour liquids, give my cat his medicine, collect my vitamins, scoop cat litter, bathe, carry things, etc.

I have yet to practice writing and eating with my left hand, but since my surgery is less than a week away, I’d better get to it.

Web research and wise friends and family have given me terrific suggestions to help me weather this unfortunate but necessary right hand and right arm hiatus. For example, a water pick and an electric toothbrush make teeth cleaning a lot easier.

I know that slip on shoes and button down shirts are a must- as is a recliner, since I won’t be able to sleep in a bed (or get in and out of a bed) for one or two months.

I love to do Sudoku and I just learned that I can do it with my left hand on an iPad, since I can enter the numbers with one of my fingers. Sudoku is one of the ways I relax and I’m so glad I won’t have to give it up.

Over the past six months, I have learned to make accommodations. I have primarily used my left arm to carry heavy things- although my adult children and friends have taken over most of my weighty needs.

My son empties my car and carries in groceries and three 40-pound bags of cat litter at a time into the house. He has taken over filling the six bird feeders, carrying out the garbage and mowing my lawn.

My daughter pushes and fills the grocery cart and cuts whole watermelons for me. I’m very lucky that they both live relatively close to me.

Kind friends and colleagues have carried my training materials and helped me set up training rooms: moving tables and chairs, putting the kites up on the walls, filling the candy bowls and putting them on the tables, distributing table top and participant materials, etc. I could never have managed to keep conducting training programs over this past half year without their wonderful support.

How did I hurt my shoulder? I pulled four very heavy pieces of luggage through an airport on my way to Jordan and Dubai and apparently tore a tendon. I also have a torn rotator cuff and an impingement (essentially bone scraping on bone).

During the course of traveling on different planes and having to climb up steep stairs to board them, I further aggravated and inflamed my arm and shoulder. I quickly learned to ask people around me to help me go up stairs or stow luggage up above my seat. I literally had no choice.

My surgeon wanted to schedule my surgery much sooner, but I had training commitments I needed to fulfill. Even now, I am sorely (!) tempted to put off the surgery even longer because I worry about being unable to do my work. However, there will never be a perfect time, so I’ll just have to handle it now.

When I ask myself what I am supposed to learn from this situation, there are a number of answers that pop into my mind. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. It is often all right and sometimes mandatory to ask others for help. I am so lucky to have friends and family to help me through this.
  2. It will be a good experiment in neuroplasticity to see if using my non-dominant hand will make me smarter and increase my creativity. Those would be wonderful and welcome side effects!
  3. Acting as if I am strong like a bull has gotten me into this predicament. When I travel for work in the future, I will box and mail materials ahead and make sure to use a porter for any and all luggage
  4. As much as I absolutely hate to acknowledge this fact of life, I am older and need to be more realistic about my physical capabilities and more diligent in properly accommodating my physical limitations.
  5. It will be a test of my self-discipline to resist the gravitational pull of my desk for two full weeks. Creating materials and articles has been a daily habit for decades.
  6. When I don’t listen to my body, it eventually does something so dramatic that I have to pay attention. I need to finally learn and remember this lesson.
  7. I have always prided myself on my independence. Now I need to recognize and accept that there is no shame when I have to rely on others.
  8. Knowing that I will be sidelined for a while has prompted me to become better at setting limits and managing expectations- for myself and for my clients.
  9. If my pain is not taken seriously by medical professionals in the future, I will not hesitate to demand an MRI!! Early diagnosis would have saved me six months of agony.
  10. To everything there is a season, and this is my time to rest and heal. I plan to come back smarter and stronger!

May your learning be sweet.


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