Living With One Hand

Whether you just had surgery or are planning to have a procedure on one hand or the other, these suggestions may help you adapt to a one-handed lifestyle. Try to think about things and get organized before surgery if possible, to eliminate surprise and a sense of helplessness!

Before surgery, if you can:

  • Ask family and friends for help with child care, housework, meal preparation
  • Practice dressing, undressing, using the toilet, brushing your teeth, and showering. Putting your arm in a sling may provide a good simulation of one-handed life.
  • open and re-seal cans, bottles, and containers you might need – don’t forget about shampoo/body wash in the shower!
  • open medication containers and put them in a safe place where kids can’t reach them
  • prepare some “no-cut”, minimal preparation meals (sandwiches, microwaveable dishes in separate containers, etc.)
  • Get a haircut prior to the surgery… you’ll be bothered by it if you don’t.
  • If you live alone – be prepared to go six weeks without driving (see below for a transportation idea in northwest Arkansas)

Helpful tips…

  • Have stamps on hand to pay bills via slow mail.
  • Call Ozark Regional Transit (479-756-5901) to fill out paperwork for transportation to/from doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, etc. For $25 you get a punch ticket good for 10 one-way trips from your door to doctor, etc. There is some wait time but having a book to read helps pass the time while waiting to be picked up. Or call the UA transit system or taxi service.
  • Be sure to have enough food for your pet (dog, cat, bird, etc)
In the shower:
  • Plastic bags and rubber bands to cover bandages – the bags that newspapers come in are good to cover the hand and wrist. Otherwise small trash bags will do. Use two at a time. If you can find them, umbrella bags are even better. Sometimes these are stored at entrances to businesses
  • Bottle sponge (soft sponge on a long stick) – for the armpit of your “good” hand
  • Shower brush
  • A hair brush in the shower will help you to wash your hair
  • Cotton terry cloth bathrobe – to dry your back
In the bathroom:
  • Toothpaste, shampoo, etc. in flip-top or pump (not screw top) dispensers
  • Consider an electric razor
  • Flossers (dental floss on a “Y” or “C” shaped handle) – several manufacturers make these – do a search on Google for dental floss pick.
  • A “wash and wear” haircut.
  • Put one month’s daily medicines in handy containers because it’s hard to access meds with one hand.
  • Have plastic bags (from Wal-Mart, etc.) and many large rubber bands to cover your hand and arm when you shower.
  • After the large bandage has been removed, the yellow plastic bags that newspapers come wrapped in are great to cover your hand/arm when showering.
  • A shower chair is helpful to use when taking a shower… borrow one or rent one, it’s worth it
  • Medicine bottles are hard to open… leave the cap to the aspirins off so you can readily access them… strong meds won’t be needed soon after surgery but aspirins help.
In the kitchen
  • Dycem mat (rubber jar opener mat) – to help open jars, but also keep things from sliding around while you are working on them
  • Double suction cup pads (“little Octopus”) – to hold items while you use or wash them
  • Electric can opener with a lid magnet strong enough to hold the can in the air – for one handed use
  • Buy twice as much food as you originally planned to have on hand.
In the bedroom
  • Back scratcher
  • Slip-on or Velcro shoes
  • Oversized shirts and tops
  • Put away clothing which buttons, fastens or snaps in the back or which uses drawstrings – use pants with elastic waistbands.
  • Sports bra or a camisole instead of a bra
  • L’eggs Sheer Energy nylons can be pulled on one handed – most others can’t
  • Locate elastic only slacks to wear as they are easiest to put on after surgery.

Material adapted from Charlie Eaton, MD