I'm one of those lucky people. At least, I consider myself lucky. I've never had any serious health issues and I'm a generally healthy person. I rarely got sick as a child and remember pulling all kinds of tricks and stunts in order to convince my mother I was sick just for the chance to stay home from school for one or two days during the school year. Moaning and groaning about a "stomach ache" didn't cut it for my mother. But drinking a hot cup of tea, waiting exactly seven minutes after finishing it to stick a thermometer in my mouth resulted in the perfect "fever"... not too high but just high enough to stay home from school. And now, as a woman in my forties, my luck has generally continued, and I thank God every day that I get up most mornings with a bounce in my step.
About three weeks ago, I noticed an odd twinge in the knuckles of my right hand, my dominant hand. The twinge has now upgraded to downright pain and manifests itself in my struggle to open a tube of toothpaste or flip open the top of the ketchup bottle. When it started waking me up in the middle of the night while my hand was completely at rest, I knew that something was up.
Now, I'm in the middle of appointments with doctors and orthopedists, finished one kind of medication which did absolutely nothing for me and am beginning the next step in trying to figure out what the heck is going on with my hand.
Each day that passes and that my hand gets worse, terrifies me. It's not just that this is my dominant hand, but that I am a piano teacher and an artist and a baker by profession. You couldn't possibly put together three careers that use hands more than these. My piano playing is already suffering and my husband is getting used to wielding a wooden spoon to help mix cake batter when needed. I've gotten more cuts on my fingers in the last month since my grip on a chef's knife is shaky at best and I'm dropping things left and right. I'm hoping and praying that this is tendinitis, something that with time and some therapy may go away. But my fear is that this might be arthritis and that this pain and inability to do the things that once came so easily to me will be chronic.
But what I did discover about myself, that I knew already to some degree, is that my left hand does not get the credit it deserves. I preach it all the time to my students when they complain how difficult it is for them to play the notes correctly and smoothly in their non-dominant hand. Truthfully, most people pay absolutely no attention to their non-dominant hand. In actuality, it acts solely as a support system for the dominant hand. It may hold the loaf of bread down while you're slicing it, or hold the coffee cup steady while you're pouring cream into it, or grip the zipper while you're sliding the zipper up or down, or holding the mixing bowl while scraping the cake batter into a pan, but it's not taking center stage. It quietly waits for its cue from the dominant hand to lend a helping hand - pun intended. But when it comes to playing piano, you learn very quickly that each hand is equally as important. The melody is not always in the right hand or the left hand, but can move rapidly from one to the other and that the earlier you learn to treat both hands with the same importance and learn to use them with the same level of skill, the better pianist you will be.
I am by no means ambidextrous, but I do believe that one can teach the non dominant hand to step up, to take charge and to give the dominant hand a well-deserved break. It's not natural and it's not instinctive, but now that the pain is impossible to ignore, my body is learning to trust my left hand a little more each day. This doesn't mean that I've given up my quest to "fix" my right hand, because I still need the use of both hands - as we all do, no matter what our profession - and I'm desperate to play the pieces that I once played well, but for now, I'm giving my left hand the recognition it deserves. And as I automatically opened the coffee jar this morning with my left hand, I took a moment to be grateful for the little things, for the untapped strength that has been lying dormant in the hand that had always been the understudy and the number two, the quiet supporter to my right.