Winning With A Bad Hand

 

I was consulting with a neurologist regarding the recent difficulties I’d been having with my right arm. It had, quite suddenly, stopped doing what my brain told it to do, at least when I told it to toss something underhanded, as when playing horseshoes or juggling. Instead, my hand would pronate or rotate counterclockwise, ultimately hitting me in the rib cage if I fought hard enough against it. 

The neurologist tried to reassure me that the problem manifests itself quite subtlely and that if I weren’t a professional juggler I probably wouldn’t even notice it. 

The thing is, I was a professional juggler.

In a sense, of course, he was right: I was fortunate in that my symptom was quite literally limited to making an underarm throwing motion. There was no pain, no balance or proprioception issues, no headaches. Just clients to please and audiences to entertain and the question of how I would go about it with my greatly diminished juggling ability. 

What I did was get to work. With the help of friends, I collaborated on a new act as a kind of workaround. Instead of juggling five balls, for example, I substituted throwing an olive into the air and catching it on a toothpick clenched between my teeth. Instead of juggling clubs, I learned to roll an apple down my back and pierce it between my legs with a fork. And, of course, I learned to fill every corner of it with comedy, comedy, comedy. 

My injury lead to the best thing that has happened to me professionally. No longer did I have to worry what anyone else was doing on the bill; my act was truly one of a kind. 

Instead of “juggler” on my business cards, I put “unnatural acts”.

Then one day, more than two decades after my problem manifested itself, I was drying dishes by hand when I noticed that I was putting a kind of flourish into the action of putting utensils away in the drawer. I made a mental note of it and before long I began noticing other problems. Picking up a coffee cup would cause my hand to curl slightly inward as my torso would make way. I began spreading butter, chopping fruits and vegetables and performing numerous other tasks left-handed. My right hand began to grow restless: reading a book while holding a cup of coffee became an impossibility. Writing longhand became extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. Credit purchases became stressful as made an ungainly effort to replicate the signature on the back of my credit card. Shaking hands? Awkward. 

Then a watershed moment: during a show in Bonn, Germany, I discovered I was unable to hold a microphone with my right hand. Even before Bonn, I had been making adaptations to accommodate my “little problem”. As my right hand became increasingly useless, I began to rely on it more and more for the one task for which it was still competent: holding a microphone. My left hand would become responsible for the yeoman work of gesturing, something which was becoming increasingly awkward with my right hand. 

Some fixes were easy: I moved my glass of water to my left side, obviating the need to lift a glass of water with my right hand. By learning to get comfortable with the microphone in the mic stand (something I never bothered with before) I am still able to gesture with my left hand while leaving my right hand to rest in my pocket. But even this had a downside: as my left hand undertakes tasks formerly the responsibility of my right hand, it frees the latter to go off into its own world.) The point is, I try to focus on what I’m doing and instead I focus on what my right hand is up to. Not a good place. 

I had given numerous talks to various organizations about my arm but always given in tandem with my show. Now I began to sense that the problem was so overt that rather than a talk at the end of the show what is required is a kind of disclaimer at the beginning of the show, lest my right arm distract audiences from, you know, the jokes. But without so much as a diagnosis, how would I begin such a disclaimer? I felt I needed at least a cursory diagnosis before casually informing the audience to ignore whatever the hell my right arm was up to.

Well, a diagnosis is what I have. A soft diagnosis, at least. With help from my wife, I managed to get an appointment with a doctor here in Germany who’s best guess is that I suffer from focal dystonia, about which little is known. (That’s the thing with neurology: for its abundance of “fascinating” case studies, it has relatively few treatments, let alone cures.) Focal dystonia, when it is focused on the hand, is commonly known as writers’ or musicians’ cramp. (According to Wikipedia, “Focal dystonia most typically affects people who rely on fine motor skills – musicians, writers, surgeons, etc. It is thought that the excessive motor training those skills require may contribute to the development of dystonia as their cortical maps become enlarged and begin to overlap. Focal dystonia is generally “task-specific,” meaning that it is only problematic during certain activities.” 

So in that sense, the neurologist I visited more than two decades ago was right: my problem is task specific. Now the question is, “What is my task?” 

That’s what I’m endeavoring to find out.

https://youtu.be/40K5WLLZeUw 

 

Published in Entertainment
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There are 34 comments.

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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    thanks for sharing this David. Very moving, and I Needed to see that right now. 

    • #1
    • February 25, 2019, at 9:07 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  2. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Inactive

    With you all the way, David! You are a master of reinvention/reframing/reimagining: You’ve “got this”…You make me laugh, make me think, and remind me that everyone has unique gifts to share. And…You are so much more brave than I am: Kudos and Semper Fi, my friend! Be kind to yourself, incidentally.

    Thanks for posting a chapter of the book for us here, too! 

    • #2
    • February 25, 2019, at 9:08 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  3. David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    You bet, Bryan: I’m glad you got something out of it and thanks for reminding me that I, too, am not alone. 

    • #3
    • February 25, 2019, at 9:08 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  4. David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Thank you, @nandapanjandrum: it’s always a pleasure to connect with you, friend. 

    • #4
    • February 25, 2019, at 9:10 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  5. MarciN Member

    This is a very inspiring story. Thank you.

    I read a terrific book years ago compiled by the editors of Investor’s Business Daily. Every day the newspaper runs a short inspirational story about people who have succeeded. They often run vignettes about sports figures. This book was a collection of 55 of these vignettes about sports figures who have overcome great physical challenges.

    I began the book being impressed by these high achievers, but by the end of the book, reading about so many people who had overcome tremendous obstacles, I was overwhelmed how much people can accomplish when they keep trying. :-)

    If I ever win the mega bucks, I’m going to buy copies of this book and put one into every physical rehabilitation clinic–the way Gideon Bibles are placed in hotel nightstands. :-)

    • #5
    • February 25, 2019, at 9:27 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. Arahant Member

    David Deeble (View Comment):

    You bet, Bryan: I’m glad you got something out of it and thanks for reminding me that I, too, am not alone.

    You’ll always know you’re not alone in a crowded elevator.

    • #6
    • February 25, 2019, at 9:29 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. Jim McConnell Member

    Thank you, David. That’s probably the most delightful and inspiring post I’ve seen on Ricochet (and that’s saying something!).

    • #7
    • February 25, 2019, at 9:38 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  8. Annefy Member

    I am almost certain this is similar to two types of “dystonia ” Scott Adams suffered from. Once in his right hand and years later with his vocal cords. 

    I’ll try to follow up with some links, but I believe he’s written extensively about both on his blog at Dilbert dot com. 

    Hang in there friend and good luck 

    • #8
    • February 25, 2019, at 10:02 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  9. Arahant Member

    Annefy (View Comment):
    I am almost certain this is similar to two types of “dystonia ” Scott Adams suffered from. Once in his right hand and years later with his vocal cords.

    Yep.

    • #9
    • February 25, 2019, at 10:04 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. The Reticulator Member

    I’ve never been where you are, but it does it provide you with some satisfaction that you at least have an interesting malady rather than the same old, same old? 

    I have an appointment next week with a neurologist. A slightly younger friend has a degenerative disease for which he needs to visit a neurologist from time to time, and his wife says those appointments are very hard to come by. I feel almost guilty in taking up an appointment slot, and in fact am not quite sure why I have one or whether I should cancel. 

    It came about because I went to the ER a couple of weeks ago and was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. The ER doctors referred me to the neurologist, which is why I have an appointment.

    I seem to be recovering OK. I’m about at the 11-day point, and am pretty sure that the signs of improvement are not just my imagination. I still can’t blink my left eye, which is the worst of it because it creates difficulties with reading and a whole lot of things, but my primary doctor told me on Saturday that she could see movement. But she was also puzzled about why the ER doctors referred me to a neurologist already, and I didn’t have a good explanation. 

    But last night it occurred to me. There is a possibility that a chicken pox-like virus is implicated in Bell’s Palsy, and I had asked the ER doctor if that meant I should get the shingles vaccine. She said that was an interesting question, and didn’t know the answer. She also said something about the neurologist with whom she had apparently consulted about my case. She was too busy to get back to me about it, but I now wonder if bringing up the topic made it interesting enough to send me to a neurologist. 

    I still don’t know if I should really be taking up a rare neurologist appointment slot, as most people recover fully from this, and there is no sign that I am not on track to do so. And if interesting is the criterion, your malady is a lot more interesting than mine.

    • #10
    • February 25, 2019, at 10:08 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  11. Vance Richards Member

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    thanks for sharing this David. Very moving, and I Needed to see that right now.

    Me too. I have been out of work for a while now. Maybe it is time for me to start tossing olives at my face and see where it takes me . . . 

    Seriously, this is good stuff and motivational speaking probably pays better than juggling. Sort of like Tony Robbins only much funnier . . . and about a foot and a half shorter.

    • #11
    • February 25, 2019, at 10:10 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  12. Henry Racette Contributor

    Fantastic! Terrific story, great writing! Thanks!

    • #12
    • February 25, 2019, at 10:41 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  13. PHCheese Member

    That explains it. I knew there was a reason I couldn’t play the piano. Good to hear from you David . Hurry back and se us ,now hear.

    • #13
    • February 25, 2019, at 11:39 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    Vance Richards (View Comment):
    Maybe it is time for me to start tossing olives at my face and see where it takes me . . . 

    Can’t hurt. Unless you get one in your eye. Consider investing in a good pair of safety goggles.

    • #14
    • February 25, 2019, at 12:11 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    That explains it. I knew there was a reason I couldn’t play the piano. Good to hear from you David . Hurry back and se us ,now hear.

    I’ve also got a good reason why I can’t play the piano. Decades and decades of never attempting it.

    • #15
    • February 25, 2019, at 12:12 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    David Deeble: I had given numerous talks to various organizations about my arm but always given in tandem with my show. Now I began to sense that the problem was so overt that rather than a talk at the end of the show what is required is a kind of disclaimer at the beginning of the show, lest my right arm distract audiences from, you know, the jokes. But without so much as a diagnosis, how would I begin such a disclaimer? I felt I needed at least a cursory diagnosis before casually informing the audience to ignore whatever the hell my right arm was up to.

    Just spouting off the top of my head, what if you stuck a foam bat or something in your right hand? That way as you’re talking and gesturing with your left you’ll occasionally clobber yourself with your right. Seems like something you could work with as a comedian.

    Not enough slapstick in this day and age.

    • #16
    • February 25, 2019, at 12:21 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  17. Barfly Member

    If the comedy routine goes bad you’ll make out ok as a writer, David. Also, while I appreciate your story about adaptability and all, I’m really struck by the idea that it might be due to competition for neurons between cortical regions. That has implications, some of which are unsettling.

    • #17
    • February 25, 2019, at 12:37 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  18. ctlaw Coolidge

    The worst part must have been trying to explain to your German doctor your lack of control over your right arm without making a Dr. Strangelove joke.

    • #18
    • February 25, 2019, at 2:02 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  19. Aaron Miller Member

    You never had a better excuse for a stand-up routine in which your assistant is regularly slapped or pinched.

    Or shake your fist at the sky. Give your audience a thumb up. Make them guess what is deliberate. 

    I can hear your daughter now, explaining that your bad hand must have signed her school report when you were not looking. 

    • #19
    • February 25, 2019, at 2:42 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  20. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    You never had a better excuse for a stand-up routine in which your assistant is regularly slapped or pinched.

    Or shake your fist at the sky. Give your audience a thumb up. Make them guess what is deliberate.

    I can hear your daughter now, explaining that your bad hand must have signed her school report when you were not looking.

    Ooh, that’s a good one.

    [Smack] [Smack]

    No, wait, I forgot, it’s my other hand that I can’t control.

    [Smack]

    There we go!

    • #20
    • February 25, 2019, at 2:46 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  21. Shauna Hunt Member

    This is truly inspiring! Thank you! Your story gives me a lot of hope.

    • #21
    • February 25, 2019, at 3:00 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  22. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Inactive

    Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… (View Comment):

    With you all the way, David! You are a master of reinvention/reframing/reimagining: You’ve “got this”…You make me laugh, make me think, and remind me that everyone has unique gifts to share. And…You are so much more brave than I am: Kudos and Semper Fi, my friend! Be kind to yourself, incidentally.

    Thanks for posting a chapter of the book for us here, too!

    P.S. Describing putting utensils in a drawer “with a flourish” caught my eye – and my heart. You’re still uniquely you, friend. Your way of approaching the world and interpreting it, to yourself and others, is one-of-a-kind. Keep on keeping on… 

    • #22
    • February 25, 2019, at 3:57 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  23. Front Seat Cat Member

    You make anything funny and interesting – even this hiccup(?) – did you have a cat scan to make sure all is ok upstairs – no joke – that is a bit scary….I thought you lived CA – I hope they take good care of you there (Germany?) – you are a Ricochet National Treasure…

    • #23
    • February 25, 2019, at 6:40 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  24. Eugene Kriegsmann Member

    That video had me laughing out loud. I particularly liked the juggling with grocery bags. Thank you for the post and the video.

    • #24
    • February 25, 2019, at 6:48 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. James Of England Moderator

    Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… (View Comment):

    Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… (View Comment):

    With you all the way, David! You are a master of reinvention/reframing/reimagining: You’ve “got this”…You make me laugh, make me think, and remind me that everyone has unique gifts to share. And…You are so much more brave than I am: Kudos and Semper Fi, my friend! Be kind to yourself, incidentally.

    Thanks for posting a chapter of the book for us here, too!

    P.S. Describing putting utensils in a drawer “with a flourish” caught my eye – and my heart. You’re still uniquely you, friend. Your way of approaching the world and interpreting it, to yourself and others, is one-of-a-kind. Keep on keeping on…

    I thought so, too. It’s a wonderful post, but the decoration being as fine as the load bearing elements is a big part of making it a Deeble post. 

    • #25
    • February 25, 2019, at 8:47 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  26. David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    MarciN – Thanks for weighing in and I’ll look into that IBD article. 

    • #26
    • February 28, 2019, at 4:29 AM PDT
    • Like
  27. David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Happy to hear it, Jim: I really appreciate it. One always has doubts while writing!

    • #27
    • February 28, 2019, at 4:30 AM PDT
    • Like
  28. David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Fantastic! Terrific story, great writing! Thanks!

    You bet, Henry – happy to hear it. 

    • #28
    • February 28, 2019, at 4:31 AM PDT
    • Like
  29. David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Barfly (View Comment):

    If the comedy routine goes bad you’ll make out ok as a writer, David. Also, while I appreciate your story about adaptability and all, I’m really struck by the idea that it might be due to competition for neurons between cortical regions. That has implications, some of which are unsettling.

    I won’t be voting Democrat anytime soon if that’s what you’re driving at. 

    • #29
    • February 28, 2019, at 4:32 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  30. David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Pretty sure that’s a hate crime here. 

    • #30
    • February 28, 2019, at 4:32 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
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