By Will Graybeal CP/LPO, Bristol Orthotics and Prosthetics
What I love about the field of prosthetics, is that I am constantly learning from both my clients and the profession itself. Lately, working with clients with prosthetic hands has taught me a lot about learning to let go.
When teaching a new arm amputee to use their prosthetic hand, most of the difficulty is in grasping things and holding on to them to bring the item into use. The prosthetic hand is stronger when closing and holding on and has more motor power, if electric, and more grip force to maintain positioning of an item in the hand. In many cases a prosthetic hand is closed in its natural state and requires a movement to allow it to open. When walking and swinging the arm, the hand or hook remains closed by the side, to look more natural and not be in the way. Teaching the patient to open the hand requires using the opposite side, mimicking the movement in order to get the affected limb to respond. This mirror imaging allows the body to feel what it should be doing on the amputated side, since those muscles and bones are no longer present and we are using another part of the body to activate the hand to open. Once this process is learned, then the patient can carry on life as close to normal as possible, using their prosthetic hand to regain those abilities we all tend to take for granted, such as eating with two hands and buttoning our shirt or pants.
But for those of us not missing a hand, what can this teach us? Lately, I have heard stories, read articles, and had conversations about receiving something new and letting go of something old. No matter how hard I try to control my schedule, my finances, my kids, or anything that has to do with me having control, I tend to either get frustrated or get exactly what I expected, which can actually lead to disappointment. Why is it so hard to open our hands and let things go? The only way to shake a hand is to reach out with an open hand. The only way to receive a gift is to open our hands and accept it. It takes fewer muscles and less effort to open the hand than to grab on and try to keep something from moving. Imagine doing a pull up; you reach up and squeeze with very small muscles in the forearm to pull your entire body weight up. At some point your muscles give out and you drop to the ground. There is something to be said about hanging on to things, people, possessions, or memories. We want that control!
Some days, we wake up knowing our schedule, and our routine is exactly as we want it. Ah, the perfect day. I realized this past week that maybe that’s not the best way. If my life went completely as I had planned, then I probably would not be where I am—in fact, I know that I wouldn’t be. By opening my hands and allowing the day to unfold, as it should, then new people, ideas, and opportunity come my way. It’s not always necessarily good things, but each experience is a learning opportunity, and I grow because of it. Well, if I choose to grow, that is. I am learning each day to use those small muscles and go the easier route of letting go and being open. I say “easy,” as in less effort, but not always the easiest in regards to learning or challenge. I find that my family, patients, and colleagues are teaching me things all of the time, and I just need to open my hands and eyes to these opportunities.
I think it is wonderful that something physical, like learning about a new product for a patient, can trigger ideas and thoughts that help shape my everyday life. I am looking forward to this Christmas season and letting go of things I have held onto for a season or even my entire life. Thoughts and ideas that have led me in the wrong direction need to go, and new ways of living and seeing the world are now coming my way. All with the simple act of opening my hands.
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