Starting From Scratch

My right shoulder has been giving me grief since April. Not so bad during the day but pretty awful at night. I have no idea what I did to piss off this particular body part. It’s probably just protesting 60+ years of having to do right shoulder things. In any case, once it became apparent that I couldn’t cure myself with liniments and potions and strategically placed pillows, I sought professional help. Wherein I was put through the medical wringer. I had x-rays, which never show anything unless your arm is hanging by a thread. An EMG test, where needles are placed in your arm to determine how your nerves are conducting electrical impulses. (It’s not as fun as it sounds.) I did a dozen sessions of PT, which helped with my IT band problem in 2018, but to which my shoulder said pfffffftt. Time and money evaporated while my physical therapist applied ice and electrical stimulation (kind of nice!), and had me pull on stretchy bands, tug on pulleys, do stretches with a cane, and pedal a bike with my arms—all to no avail. Then I had a couple of cortisone shots—which made a difference only briefly. I had high hopes for those shots. Finally, finally, finally, insurance bestowed an MRI upon me, and I heard the angels sing. Well, whadda ya know, there are torn things in said shoulder. (Ironically, the insurance company thinks that they are saving money by allowing an MRI only as a last resort, but you will note that they’ve now paid for an MRI PLUS a million other things, so the cost-effectiveness of this approach escapes me. But what do I know.)

I was making slow slow progress towards getting this pain figured out, when my orthopedist, who I really liked/respected, informed me that she was leaving town. GAH!! Was it something I said?!?!

So then I waited for a referral. Meanwhile, my shoulder continued to picket and protest and make loud pain speeches while I tried to sleep.

In early December, after becoming a phone pest about the logy referral process, I was seen by the new guy who is very nice and well-reviewed. You have two options, he said, “Live with it, or have surgery.” So surgery it is.

[Audience participation portion: Try saying “shoulder surgery” three times fast. It’s hard. Or am I weird?]

So I’ve been scheduled for arthroscopic surgery at the end of February. There’s a chance that the rotator cuff tear isn’t too bad and can simply be reinforced with a piece of cow Achilles tendon that’s apparently all the rage these days. (Who knew?!) If they can go that route, recovery should be quicker than the expected 6-8 weeks.

This weekend, it started dawning on me how much I do with my right arm, and ohmigod, I better start training the other side of my brain/body to start pulling its weight. Especially when it comes to writing. Which is my favorite and most necessary right-handed thing. I enter the following into evidence:





I’m feeling a little (a lot, actually) panicky at the thought of not being able to journal, make lists, jot down quotes and ideas, and write letters—especially since I’ll be home for a spell with plenty of time on my hands.

What’s a girl to do??!!

This girl is trying to teach herself to write with her LEFT HAND. Day one of what I vow will be a daily practice commenced yesterday.



The clock is ticking, but I’m starting over, like a kindergartener learning to form letters for the first time. (An interesting observation—my WHOLE BODY feels tense after I write a single line of letters.)

Is there hope? Has anyone else done this?

Stay tuned for regular updates.

34 thoughts on “Starting From Scratch

  1. Never had a torn rotator cuff but did have frozen shoulder for a year and half (2017-2018) – talk about painful! Couldn’t move my left arm past the 90 degree angle and my shoulder hurt EVERY NIGHT. Did have it worked on (i.e., scar tissue broken while under anesthesia) which seemed to do the job. Luckily it was my left ’cause I write with my right hand. I can’t imagine writing with my left hand although I’ve tried many times. It comes out backwards as odd as that sounds (mirror image to my right). Your left hand writing is pretty awesome and using a fountain pen on top of that – way to go, Mary!

    • Thanks, Carrie! Can’t wait to get rid of this pain, even though it’ll be an exercise in patience. (Loved your Christmas letter!!)

  2. I am so impressed with your foresight and the endeavor to write with your other hand! Here’s wishing you a successful surgery and a pain free new year!

  3. I’ve done it. I taught myself to write with my left hand, though never well. I found that starting with a school pencil, one of the larger diameter ones, and progressing to larger diameter pens worked fairly well. I wouldn’t trust my left hand with a fountain pen for anything though.

    Platinum Preppy sign pens were the best i ever got.

  4. Commiserations on the torn rotator cuff — been there, done that. Best wishes for a successful surgical outcome! Your first lefty writing samples are way more legible than my life-long left-handed writing!

  5. I suggest this might be a good time to master, or at least try to master, the whole voice-to-text thing. Wishing you the best for a speedy and full recovery. Meanwhile, I’ll be having cataract surgeries in mid-Feb and mid-March. It’s the price to be paid for waking up every morning, I guess.

  6. Dear Mary:
    Sounds typical of medical experiences these days. You are right, there’s something lacking in the cost effectiveness of waiting for an MRI. Guess they’ve “ruled out” everything else. Speedy recovery, and remember these things take time, have patience. But don’t forget to be a “phone pest” if you need something, or something isn’t working.

  7. I’m so sorry to hear about all the pain and frustrating missteps along the path to diagnosis! When I had a long bout of tendonitis years ago, I was forced to use my other hand and arm for a lot of things, and I discovered that it’s useful to be more ambidextrous, so your practice won’t be wasted, even after you recover. Re: writing with your left hand: You might find it easier to stick with printing instead of cursive. And try pens that require less pressure. You’ll probably find that you develop a different handwriting with your left, not just a sloppy or shaky duplicate of your right hand’s work, and that’s cool! Best wishes — I hope all goes well!

  8. That’s quite a task you’ve set yourself! The most I’ve ever done in a similar regard was to move the computer mouse from the right side to the left when my right shoulder blade area was bothering me. It wasn’t too difficult and I still keep it there. But handwriting or even printing, that would be a challenge! -Kate

  9. You are amazing to tackle this. I tried it once but found the frustration level too high to tolerate. Sadly I did more typing! Good luck. You will so enjoy being pain free. Looking forward to positive updates.

  10. I had shoulder surgery last year – and could resume writing rather quickly. I could hold the tablet in my left hand, or use a lap desk to get the paper to the correct angle.
    I don’t know if learning to write left handed will be necessary. I would suggest asking your doctor.

    Voice dictation software is really good – I recommend it. Dragon, or the Google app called “recorder”

  11. Hey, I’ve done that before! A good trick is to write very big letters in the air and let your left hand get use to drawing the shapes. Then, work your way down and gradually reduce the size until your usual handwriting size.

    Alternatively, you could try mirror writing. This is easier as you are just copying the muscle memory and movements from your right hand and apply it on your left hand (still need to develop your lefty muscles though) to create a mirror script. Not practical in real life but very fun to do in your private journals, solves the smudging issue too!

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  13. A couple of years ago I broke my right hand. My doctor agreed to a splint rather than a cast, which was a life saver. I could air things out, type with my thumb and index finger (the others taped together), and most importantly, scratch where it itched. Never got the hang of left-handed writing though!

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  15. I do this – just because. Also your writing looks amazing and I know the feeling about the whole body being tense and exhausted after one round of lettering!
    I wish you all the best with the surgery and I really hope you’re able to keep up with writing during recovery.

  16. You have terrified me. And your handwriting with the left, looks as good as mine does with my right… which has shamed me.

    I have a right shoulder which was dislocated in my youth (by an over-zealous karate teacher!), and that I can now pop in and out with the aid of a doorway or something, and I can only imagine how that might inflict grief in the future.

    I’m worried, and may now begin southpaw handwriting practice.

    Good luck to you, may your surgery be faultless and everything you could hope for!

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