2010 has been the year of the frozen shoulder for me [more on that in another post] - and as such, it's also been the year of the left hand. I'm right handed, but when the pain in my right shoulder and arm was acute, for about four months from March to July, I had to stop using it for just about everything. In order to keep on functioning, I had to use my left hand/arm.
I switched to using the mouse with my left hand back in March - and I'm still using it that way. The switching process was interesting. I'd thought it would be impossible or at least impossibly clunky, like handwriting left-handed is for me. There was about a 24-hour changeover period during which my brain felt fuzzy whenever I used the mouse with the 'wrong' hand. But it was a process which was on the surface - by that I mean that I could feel the change happenning in my brain. Within a short space of time, my brain was explicitly directing its control to my left hand instead of my right. Maybe a better way of explaining that is that my brain was in control, not my hand. I discovered that the brain can quite easily over-ride muscular-skeletal patterns and knowledge - though the opposite is the case with a frozen shoulder. In that case, the muscles of the shoulder become inhibited - that is, they refuse to act, even when the brain tells them to act, because they have learnt to associate action with pain.
In March I also began driving left-handed. Usually I drive two-handed, with a dominant right hand. I couldn't do that any more - couldn't lift my right arm up high enough to be on the wheel, not to mention the pain that any repetitive movement caused. So I began driving with my right hand in my lap, controlling the steering wheel with my left hand. That was quite a challenge for the first month or so - driving is a surprisingly strenuous activity! Especially if you've only got one arm. Turning corners requires quick movement to turn the wheel - resulting in a very sore left shoulder on a few occasions. But then I adjusted and once again, leftness became dominant. However, recently, my right arm has been recovering and without even realising I'm doing it, I'll find myself using it on the steering wheel.
But here's the really interesting thing. I've learnt to not control or react with my right hand/arm. Early in this process, I had several episodes of excruciating pain when I, for example, put out my right hand to stop something from falling on to me, or to grab an errant dog's lead, and so on. I learnt from bitter experience that I had to keep my right arm bent against my chest to stop myself using it. That went on for about three months, but gradually I could let my arm hang down, confident in the knowledge that if something unexpected happened, I would not use my right arm to defend myself. I've managed to turn my left arm into the default. The left is now in control.
There are some things, which require fine rather than gross muscle control, which I found very hard to switch from right to left. Buttering bread, for example. And slicing bread. At the height of the pain, remembering to leave the butter out of the fridge so it was soft enough for me to use was a matter of intense concern to me, as making Ol's lunch in the mornings was almost impossible if I had to apply any pressure at all to the knife - and I couldn't manage to 'butter' (ie. get the butter onto the knife) with my left hand.
I'll probably gradually return to driving right-handed but I'm not sure I'll stop 'mousing' with my left hand, as there's an interesting alertness I feel when I use the subordinate hand to 'think' with. It's as if I've turned something on. Maybe this is the plasticity of the brain in action.