Glass Half Full

I finished this post about an hour before news broke of the bombing at the Boston Marathon yesterday. By comparison, it feels trivial. But I share it here, today, nonetheless, because life goes on. My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this insane tragedy. Life is precious. We need to cherish what we have, whatever the challenges, and support each other through the struggles.—EH

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Last Thursday I dropped my iPhone in a glass of seltzer. Fortunately, thanks to its sturdy Otterbox case, it didn’t get ruined. Thanks, also, to a good friend who removed the case (not something I can manage very well with clumsy fingers) and zapped a few hidden drops of seltzer with pressurized air, the phone was thoroughly dried before I used it again.

This is only the most recent episode in a recent spate of dropping stuff. Lately, things seem to jump right out of my hands, leaping to freedom before they crash—or plop—as the case may be.

I’ll pick a knife or fork out of the cutlery drawer, only to watch it spring from my fingers and skitter across the floor. Or my toothbrush will fling itself into the sink. Or the cordless phone will take a swan dive.

It’s quite startling. I have yet to figure out what cues I’m missing, but I suspect it’s due to some kind of nerve damage in my fingers from years of Raynaud’s—a dichotomous mix of lost sensation and hypersensitivity to any ulcerations or skin damage. It’s also a matter of the object’s size and weight—small enough to be picked up with one hand, but just heavy enough to require a firm grip—which I don’t really have any more.

My hands don’t believe it. Relying on decades of kinesthetic memory, they grab, reach, scoop, turn and twist without conscious direction. Of course I can hold onto that knife. Of course I can grasp my toothbrush. Of course I can pick up the phone. Even when I can’t.

In a sense, this is related to the phenomenon of the phantom limb—when a part of the body is amputated, but still feels as if it’s attached and functioning as always. Although my fingers and hands have deteriorated over the past 30 years, I often still operate as if they hadn’t changed. Then I reach the wrong way for something and smash a fingertip because I misjudged the distance, relying on kinesthetic memory instead of visual cues. Or I assume I can complete a task in a third of the time it now takes me, despite repeated experience that my hands just don’t function that efficiently. Or I drop stuff that I think I’m holding firmly, overriding feedback from fingers to brain.

So far, thank goodness, I haven’t done any serious damage. I haven’t broken anything valuable, I haven’t hurt anyone or myself and I haven’t lost anything important—at least, as far as I know. I’m more vigilant when picking up things that are fragile. I use my forearms for extra support when carrying heavy objects. I try not to rush tasks that require dexterity.

But it is unnerving. My hands, damaged as they are from scleroderma, have always been my trusted helpers. I don’t want to believe that they—I—simply can’t do for myself as I used to. I’ve accepted my limitations, to a large extent, but at another level, still can’t.

Dysfunctional, perhaps. All the leaping forks, toothbrushes, keys, phones, makeup applicators, pens and other objects craving to demonstrate Newton’s Law of Gravity may well be vying for my attention, willing me to fully acknowledge the reality I’ve been living with for years.

And yet. There’s a balance to be struck, between accepting limitations and not being defined by them. My fingers’ denial of sensory evidence to the contrary, my mind’s denial that I’m less able than I was before, are what keep me from sliding into a depressed, glass-half-empty view of my life and what the future holds.

Like Archimedes in his bathtub, when my iPhone plopped into the seltzer, it raised the fluid level in the glass. Worth noticing. Worth rescuing. Worth figuring out how not to do it again. But otherwise, not worth much more than a laugh and a sigh of relief.

Photo Credit: EssjayNZ via Compfight cc

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at


  1. Pat Bizzell says:

    I am experiencing some of these phenomena, though not from the same medical causes. I have so little grip strength that I can’t open most jars without a tool I bought for the purpose, to give extra torque. I think I have picked up something small and light, only to find it plunging out of my hand, just as you describe. I dropped a glass on the kitchen counter recently and it shattered all over the place.

    In my case the problem arises in part from arthritic joints in my fingers, especially stiff in the morning when I first get up. But I think there may also be some neurological involvement from a chronically pinched nerve in my neck, where arthritis has narrowed the spinal opening that the nerve has to go through.

    We adjust.

  2. Ana Luisa Monge-Naranjo says:

    My hands have become clumsier in the last couple of years probably because of Raynaud’s and the skin thickening. I’ve been taking sewing classes as a way to keep them flexible. Do you know any exercises to help in this regard?
    Thank you.

    • That’s wonderful that you’re taking a sewing class! Anything that gets you to keep moving your fingers is a good idea, as long as it doesn’t hurt.

      I once saw an occupational therapist (OT) who recommended stretching fingers and making a fist in the shower, under a stream of warm water. I used to do this and then stopped, but it would have been a good habit to ingrain before I lost range of motion. You might try that, but a good OT consult is your best bet for expert advice.

  3. Ana Luisa Monge-Naranjo says:

    Thank you!

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