There are few people in the world who are truly ambidextrous — my grandfather was one of them — I am not one. After Falling Down the Stairs and injuring my right hand, I was forced to find a new way to grab and hold things using my non-dominant left hand.

I can do Many Amazing Things with both hands in unison, but feeding myself with my left hand only was a particularly interesting learning experience.

Forks are better than spoons. Fingers are better than forks. Teaching my left hand to grab a spoon, scoop up some brown rice and then bring the whole thing to my mouth without spilling any of the golden nuggets was a task not easily learned but immensely enjoyed. Employing my left hand and as my major master was an experience in patience, will and mind-melding on an emotional and intellectual level.

When the rice finally reached my mouth, there was no better reward for the effort. I was reminded of a Deaf friend who — the week before his dominant right arm was crushed in a printing press and amputated below the elbow
— had decided on an impulse to practice signing, writing and eating with his left hand only. He pretended his right arm was paralyzed during his self-inflicted “training period.”

There was an eeriness in his hospital room as he showed off the stump of his right arm and he told us of a “pestering inkling” he had for a week to practice all day, every day, to make his left arm come-to-life as the dominant weapon for communication and as the essential tool for sustenance. He felt he had “been warned” and “given notice” that he would need his left hand more and he was “forced to comply.”

Was my friend’s intuition a message from the future? Was he sensing his predestiny? Was he creating the removal of his right arm by wishing for what he didn’t want?

29 Comments

  1. David,
    What a story about your friend!
    That is so eerie and amazing.
    I am primarily right-handed, but oddly enough do many things with my left hand: eat, brush my teeth, brush my hair, iron my clothes…some others I am probably forgetting.
    My brother was absolutely ambidextrous when he first learned to write: he switched between hands equally and fluently and the handwriting was exactly the same. His teacher discouraged this behavior, though, and he now writes with only one hand.

  2. Hi David,
    I wonder if there was any link between your friend’s deafness and his premonition? A heightened awareness of the future because he had already lost one sense?
    I am not ambidextrous, but I do play the piano, which calls for a certain amount of left hand/right hand coordination.
    Sometimes I will draw with my left hand in order to obtain an interesting quality to the line. Doing this exercise seems to help my left brain take over (is that the side related to creativity?) and I’m not so driven by preconceived notions of what an object should look like.
    Donna

  3. Hi Emily!
    That’s wild how you so unconventionally use your left hand! How did that begin? Is it because of your cello playing?
    Most people have more strength in one hand than the other but I can imagine with your training you can make a pretty good fist with both hands.
    Your brother sounds amazing. Why would any teacher discourage a talent like that?

  4. Hi Donna!
    You ask excellent questions. I have no idea why my friend “knew” he would lose his right arm. There are some who claim if you tempt the Gods in that manner by giving up one good hand in favor of — the “Hand of the Devil” — your punishment will be the loss of the Godly hand.
    I’m going to go back into the article to add that my friend STOPPED USING his right hand for the week he was using his left. That’s the creepiest part of it that I left out!
    In doing a bit of research for this article, I noticed there are a lot of links to images of paintings and drawings that say “I did this with my left hand!” So there must be some kind of training or purpose to force the exploration of the influence of the less-dominant hand in art.
    I am now determined to see if I can find more productive uses for my left hand other than signing, making Vulcan Hands and typing!

  5. Hi David,
    That’s chilling to know that your friend had stopped using his right hand before losing it. I think we all have some sort of ESP — maybe your friend’s was telling him to get ready for his future.
    My oldest son is left handed and he always like to draw. I wonder if he’ll ever experiment using his right hand when he gets older?

  6. David,
    My cello playing did not determine the occasional use of my left hand because I did those things long before I learned to play the cello. Who knows, though…maybe I am like your friend and somehow sensed the need to make my left hand stronger and more able for use in the future!
    You are right, I can box equally well with both hands. Actually, my left hand is usually stronger than my right.
    Some teachers are not interested in creativity and unconventional ideas; they are interested in control and compliance. My brother using both of his hands to write undermined her teaching method and so he was told to stop.

  7. Hi Chris!
    Yes, it was, and still is a really chilling premonition he had. There’s no greater terror for a Deaf person who signs than to face the loss of a hand or arm because half of your ability to communicate is gone.
    You should ask your lefty son to draw something with his right hand to see what happens! A great experiment in reverse! 😀

  8. David,
    I guess I never thought about it before! Sometimes I write with my left hand just to be silly, but it looks terrible!
    That teacher’s demands did have a lasting effect on my brother, but mainly when it came to his handwriting. She was extremely critical of his handwriting and ridiculed it in front of the class a few times. My brother is a real clown and loves to joke and tease, but on the inside is very, very sensitive. He did not take her criticism well and purposely developed atrocious penmanship just to spite her. To this day, his handwriting is horrifyingly difficult to read.

  9. Emily!
    Live Left Handed for a week — but don’t paralyze your Right Hand in the process! Then, report back in an article.
    Your brother needs to be set free! I bet the handwriting from the hand that was punished is quite beautiful compared to the forced-use hand.

  10. The story of your friend is fascinating – both eerie and wonderful at the same time.
    When I was learning to crack a whip I was told by my tutor to practice as much as I could with my left arm (non dominant) as much as possible – and that because it was so much harder with that arm the *imprint* on the brain was that much stronger and that it would make a greater impression and be remembered more by my brain and would come into use when I used my dominant right arm.
    My learning process accelerated considerably.
    When I was a child/teenager I played tennis and was equally bad/good with both arms and I frequently ( as a matter of course) try to do most things with each arm/hand. Writing with my left hand I still find very difficult – you have my sympathies. Do you have one of those voice recognition/dictation machines/programmes where you can talk to your computer and it writes?

  11. David!
    Okay, but one question: do left-handed people put their mouse on the left side of their keyboard? That would severely screw me up…
    I already have my phone positioned on the left side of my desk, which freaks out my fellow right-handed coworkers, so I’m good there.

  12. That’s a fascinating story about the whip training, Nicola! I can see how that would be really hard to do with the non-practiced hand!
    The hand is much better now. I just slammed the wounded fingers with the trash can lid because I didn’t sense they were in the way on the rim — but not much more pain resulted even in the light of the previous falling down. 😀

  13. Emily!
    Oh, yeah!
    Yes. Left handers use left handed mice. They do make them. Most meeces can be used with either hand — just make sure your software is set up right for the clicking!
    Phone? Left hand site of the desk? Freaked out co-workers? A LIVING CARTOON! WHAT FUN YOU ARE!

  14. David,
    Okay, well my mouse at work is definitely a right-handed mouse and I think explaining to my IT department why I suddenly need a left-handed mouse instead will be tricky. 😀 So I will do everything else left-handed, but point and click with my right hand. I need to make sure my right hand doesn’t become paralyzed, after all…

  15. David,
    I’ve switched my mouse configuration!
    This isn’t as bad as I thought…
    I ate my lunch with my left hand! I am completing my SuDoku puzzles with my left hand!

  16. EMILY!
    Remember — nose-picking and head-scratching: Left Hand.
    We have a feeling you’re gaming the system by actually being a Lefty Loosey but telling us you’re a Righty Tighty.
    After this week’s experiment with you, we move on to the Feets of Strength: Cutting a roll and buttering it with your toes!

  17. I pick my right nostril with my right finger and my left nostril with my left finger! Same goes with the head-scratching: right side gets the right hand, left side gets the left. I think I can keep those practices intact.
    Ha! Gaming the system my butt! My left hand is already sore from clicking the stinking mouse!
    I can tell you right now that I am going to lose at Feets of Strength.

  18. Ems —
    Okay! Finally we’re seeing a little DISCOMFORT and COMPLAINING about using your left hand to work your life. GOOD! Suffering is a sign of success! We know 99% of your life is mousing around, so using your left hand for that event will be a good provider of your success or failure. 😀
    We think all bodily functions, scratchings and rubbings should be done with your left hand — but we have too much class to suggest that… or ask for public proof of that…
    For now…
    Ooops! We forgot about those cartoon feet of yours! We withdraw the challenge! :mrgreen:

  19. David!
    HA!
    But my right hand might get jealous.
    And I’ll have you know that there is nothing cartoonish about my feet! They are perfect in every way! 😀

  20. Fascinating post David!
    One of my friends back in India broke his right arm once and started using his left hand and became a sucessful ambidextrous within a month.
    But he did it after the incident, not before.
    There are so many things in life those are just beyond our immediate understanding!

  21. Oh, and as to your question about my feet…
    They are not the reason I fell down the stairs. I fell down the stairs because I am a complete klutz. My feet do usually suffer the consequences for that, though. I’ve broken four toes out of sheer clumsiness.

  22. That’s an incredible story from your friend…!
    I suppose it qualifies as “Uncanny” as in your recent post. Did he attempt any explanation?
    David, did you draw that picture you posted and was “Left Hand of David” written with your left-hand? Very elegant calligraphy!
    Seeing as this is an old post you’re probably recovered. Do you still use your left-hand as you did then?
    I happen to be left-handed, but there are many tools and objects non-lefty-friendly, that force me to adapt. Lots of examples I can think of…
    I remember when I was little I had a lot of trouble learning to use scissors unlike my sister who is right-handed. I felt really frustrated when I was teased about it. But eventually I learned to cut with the right hand – actually it just opens and closes, the left-hand does the cutting by guiding the object towards the scissor.
    But later I found out that if I hold the scissor normally in my left arm and twist the arm up towards myself I can use it quite well, with my thumb set downwards and the point of the scissor in my direction, chest high – though it looks incredibly awkward and people flinch to see me use cut that way (try it out, it’s fun)… but I still use the right-hand when cutting, I got used to it.
    I also remember feeling very disappointed when I was about 6 or 7 yrs old, because I always had to stop and think a lot before turning wind-up toys, and I accidentally ruined a wind-up mouse that was precious to me 🙁 It may sound silly, but I still have to stop and think ‘clockwise or non-clockwise?’ when dealing with music boxes various everyday objects that require turning in a specific direction.
    When I was 12 I learned to play the guitar and I wanted to play it reversed, but my sister also played on that guitar and my uncle was teaching us, so it wouldn’t do to keep changing the strings just for me; so I learned to play as a right-handed. When we played the bisel flute at school I had trouble with the 6th and 7th double orifices because they were down on the right side of the instrument and the way I played that’s where my left-hand was instead of the right that is the rule.
    In sports it is different: when playing football (soccer) I guide the ball and dribble better with my right foot, but when shooting I use the left foot for power, and the right foot for effect. In my short* time in the basketball team I was completely lefty however. In gymnastics , when performing that rotating leap (I don’t know the name in English) I rotated anticlockwise and my friends said it looked awkward. In athletic high jump (scissors technique) everybody lined up opposite me because I started from the left, as the left leg was first over the bar… When my uncle taught me and my sister to play tennis, I was really excited at first but then became really disappointed because I was really really awful at it, I couldn’t decide which arm to use to start with. My sister, a right-handed did great. Curiously, I didn’t have trouble with table-tennis (it was just for fun at school nothing much), and I played with my left.
    (*I wasn’t that bad, it was a short time because the team moved to another town (><,) and eventually me and my sister left.)
    I use the mouse on the right side for the same reasons as the guitar strings – it’s hard to share objects with a right-handed majority because it’s always the left-handed that must adapt (as makes perfect sense). As for the phone, I hold it with my right-hand, because I need my left to dial. When jumping over a low wall I use my right hand to support my weight and my legs swing over on the left side; it looks a bit creepy to see people do otherwise.
    When I wear a belt whatever decorative pattern or inscription it has is always upside down because I fasten it with my left-hand. Same with the wrist-watch, as I wear it on my right arm. Also, there are many ways of folding the cloak from the academic uniform , but all of them are intended for right-hand people and the praxis code doesn’t allow that lefties wear the cloak on the right shoulder so as to free the dominant arm, which is a great nuisance.
    When I write a lot or fast, usually my left sleeve and hand wipes the ink, not to mention when I draw with coal or soft graphite x) . My examinations are always blurred with ink because there’s no time to be careful, it’s just writing away, and to make matters worse, I happen to favour fountain pens.
    However, when playing a videogame in the PC (without a gamepad) that requires mouse view and the keys to move around, lefties have an advantage because it’s easier for a lefty to adapt their right-hand to the mouse than to a right-handed to adapt their left to the keys. (FPSs are harder though because of precise aiming.)
    There is some amusing prejudice towards lefties, but nothing harmful, it’s actually quite funny. My grandmother recently noticed that I was eating with my left and she was surprised. She said all condescending “oh but don’t be sad dear, there are a lot of people like that.” 😀
    In Portuguese, the word “Canhoto” which is the word for left-handed is another name for the Devil.
    When speaking of a bad omen, it is a superstitious habit to knock 3 times on wood and say “Diabo sejas cego, surdo e mudo. Lagarto, lagarto, lagarto sejas Canhoto!” – which means roughly “Devil be blind, deaf and mute. Lizard, lizard, lizard, be Left-handed!” 😀
    Sorry for the long post, I got carried away… and it’s an old post too…

  23. I’m happy to have old posts resurrected so fondly, iris! What great, precise, stories and examples! I felt left-handed reading your prose!
    My arm is all better now. I did not create the image but it spoke to me in an Uncanny manner so I felt called to use it. 😀