8 Things I Learnt from a Hand in Plaster

It began with a mild pain near the wrist. I ignored – for months – until I couldn’t pick up a moderately filled backpack without wincing in pain. The first doctor I visited rushed me through an X-ray, announced a ligament strain, and recommended a heavy (and expensive) dose of medication which I promptly forgot. Two months down the line, I went for a second opinion, and this time, the doctor was calmer; he heard me out, examined my hand in detail, tried to find out what could be the reason. Another X-ray later, he told me I would need to keep my hand in a plaster for three weeks if I was to nip the ailment in the bud. With a bike trip across Kashmir-Ladakh planned in August, I needed to have all my limbs in order.

On came the plaster.

It has been three weeks, three sluggishly slow, difficult weeks. As I take off my plaster, a wave of relief washing over me, I look back at them, because despite the troubles, they taught me some simple but valuable lessons.

1. I learnt to not take my hands – and my body – for granted.

Pain is your body’s way of letting you know that something is wrong. Listen to it. Do not ignore, postpone, take it for granted. Don’t wait for a part of it to break down to realise that it is your greatest asset ever. Our hands, especially, are among the least acknowledged parts of our body, and yet, they are working 24×7, making our world go round. They distinguish us spectacularly from most other species and yet, their skill and powers are so underrated – right from applying toothpaste on a toothbrush to creating the most complex and magnificent structures of human civilisation, a hand with an opposable thumb is truly a natural wonder.

The least we can do is take good care of our bodies, listen to and respect their needs and be grateful for their amazing functioning.

2. Physical activity is must for being happy.

I am nowhere close to being a fitness freak; I get bored at gyms and prefer treats to treks. These three weeks, however, kept me tied and made me stay put. As much as I dislike the monotony of household chores, I miss the fact that they keep me crisp and running. I miss dancing to upbeat music (though Salman Khan’s dance moves are very useful) and playing badminton with hubby and friends. I long for early morning surya-namaskars.

I miss riding my two-wheeler, running up and down staircases and going on long, brisk, carefree walks. It is now that I realise that being active, up and about even in the smallest of tasks actually keeps me alert and cheerful. It is a simple but very fundamental element of happiness I hadn’t noticed.

3. A radically different haircut can be cool!

One of the many challenges which come with an injured hand is unruly hair. I had straight hair, which fell, in steps, a few inches below my shoulders, and which, contrary to popular trend, I rarely left untied. Along with a plastered hand came the struggles of tying them up neatly, without any loose, annoying strands. Hubby tried, but simply couldn’t. As for me, it was impossible. Two days at work with strands of hair teasing my forehead, neck or shoulders and I had had enough; one swoop of a pair of scissors, and they were shortened to my ears. It felt wonderfully light and relieving; no more discomforting hair strands, no more tangles, no more messy head baths! I skipped out of the parlour in a joy I hadn’t felt for a long time.

The bonus? I got a lot of compliments. Many told me I looked cute, the haircut brought out the pink in my cheeks, and that my face looked sweeter. Sure, there were some who preferred the previous version, but I was glad they were honest about it. Short hair feels great, and the added appreciation (and frank opinions!) is just the icing on the cake.

4. When there is a will, there is a way.

Life is tough, and with one hand tied away and useless, it is tougher. The worst part? Showing up at work every morning. It was bad enough to sleep carefully (without twisting my hand in an awkward position) and wake up early. For days, I dragged myself out of bed. A bath felt better (I tied a plastic bag around the plastered hand), and while hubby helped me get dressed, packed my lunch and dropped me to work, the next eight hours would still be my responsibility. Typing with one hand isn’t that hard, but long hours spent figuring out how to analyse and write stuff became suddenly all the more difficult with a limb throbbing away dully.

It must be a zillion times that I wanted to just drop it all, go to bed, and do nothing rest of the day. Yet, a part of me, the stronger part, wanted to stay back and read, write, work… if it would not be for that push, I would not have made it. Three weeks of pain, discomfort and limitations, and I worked all three, meeting deadlines, researching, drafting as if everything was just as usual. And I re-learnt a simple thing I knew all along – if we have the will, it is possible.

5. Clothes don’t really matter, except they do.

Yesterday, I wore a nice, bright red, embroidered kurta after three weeks. Three weeks of loose, flabby tee-shirts, track-pants and pajamas, along with the nerdiest pair of glasses ever, because I couldn’t wear my contact lenses (yes, to work as well). As someone who loves a variety of bright, cheerful clothes, the idea of wearing the same shabby blues, blacks, and greys over and over again was daunting. Yet, as I ambled around in those Batman clothes, I grew fond of their comfort. With time, I bothered less about clothes that mismatched, got repeated, or didn’t flatter me at all. I felt comfortable, and that was enough.

And yet, yesterday, when I wore my freshly ironed red kurta and contact lenses, slipped on tiny jhumkas, and lined my eyes with kohl, I felt pretty, and happy. Being comfortable and feeling pretty can be equally joyful, and I am glad I get to experience both.

6. It’s okay to ask for help.

It is harrowing to be completely dependent on someone, no matter how much you love them and how much they love you, for all your daily activities. I couldn’t apply toothpaste to my toothbrush. I couldn’t wash my face. I couldn’t carry more than two things, however small, at one time. I couldn’t staple a slightly thick stack of papers. I couldn’t ride my bike. I couldn’t open an umbrella. Or scrub my dish. Or fold my clothes. Or pick the cat.

One of the best, and most vital qualities these days taught me was to ask for help, without feeling frustrated, inferior, or resentful. They taught me that it’s important to recognise and accept our limits, be they physical or mental, and that it’s not only okay, it is also sometimes wise to ask for help. Done the right way, asking for help can almost always elicit a positive, non-condescending response. All we have to do is ask politely and frankly – and be grateful for it.

7. An empty mind (and life) is devil’s workshop.

Thankfully, a plastered hand couldn’t stop my brain, but there were times when the pain was distracting enough to not let me concentrate on anything. At such times, when I sat in silence letting the pain ebb away gradually, I would get a feeling of what it would be to not have constructive mental pursuits. Recollections of nasty (and useless) remarks, actions, incidences would start popping up, and I would end up feeling disillusioned, resentful and frustrated. To top it all, the restricted physical activity and slow pace of everything meant I accomplished less of my tiny, immediate goals, and the feeling of being unproductive added fuel to the slowly accumulating fire.

While solitude and peace are something I genuinely value, going through life in a sedentary, empty state are a big no-no. I’d rather be too occupied and cluttered than hollowed out and empty.

8. I have one hell of a husband!

I simply couldn’t not mention this. For three excruciatingly frustrating week, that guy, got me ready, dropped me to and picked me from work, cooked, cleaned, took me out for chaat and pastries, listened to my cribbing, fed the cat, and worked full time. And he was totally sweet about it. It felt horrible to make him do everything; I have lost count of how many things I should have thanked him for. But he did not complain, he did not ask for any acknowledgement, and he went about engaging with me as cheerfully and gently as he could.

In-laws dropped by and gave him a hand; not once did I feel resented for being absolutely useless at running the house. The three took great care of me, but Amogh, my husband and my best friend, made the sun shine every single day.


 

… the plaster’s off, but my hand is still weak. It hurts a lot more. I am still getting treated and have been given a platter of exercises in order to avoid further complicated treatments. I cannot ride my two-wheeler and my sleep cycle has gone for a toss, but I can carry out most of my tasks by myself and I am steadily improving. It is just a matter of time before my hand and life return to normalcy again, but these three weeks! I will never forget their revelations, as profound as their simplicity, which cast life, self and relationships in a fresh light.

Whatever happens, happens for the best.

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– June 2016

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