The Kid with One Hand

Out-performing your peers with one hand.  Sign of Strength.

When I was young, a teacher assigned me to describe my worst fear.  My worst fear at that time happened to be loss of my hands.  I made a movie about it, drawing clips from popular movies featuring Hollywood-style amputations.  I even went so far as to give it a Stanley Kubrick-esqe title: Chopsticks.  In college, as an operating room orderly, I hadn’t shaken the fear.  I found that no amount of blood or sizable open incisions could turn my stomach.  But, amputations transformed my old fear into a hard knot inside me.  To this day, I vividly remember an 80-year-old woman, whose life was being saved, losing both of her legs simultaneously.  I had to carry her legs to the pathology lab.  I would have rather carried a corpse, young, beautiful and intact.

With that memory in mind, I saw a handicapped child several weeks ago.  He was missing his left hand.  Recently I remembered—with a bit of panic—that I forgot to record that he had had an amputation.  That fact, surely, must go in any publication that results from my study.  Or, he will have to be excluded from the results.  Perhaps one of the research assistants recorded it, or remembers.  They can be lifesavers, sometimes.  How could I commit such an obvious oversight?

In trying to figure out which child he was, I conjured up my memories of the assessment, trying desperately to find an identifying feature.  I remember looking at the end of his arm.  There appeared to be a scar there, as if the hand had been removed (probably traumatically) and then surgically debrided.  What calamity befell an infant that he lost a hand?  I thought, with chagrin, that life in South Africa was going to be difficult for him.  Life is difficult even for able-bodied men who grow up in the townships.  I had briefly considered inquiring about his hand, but I didn’t bring it up.  His mother didn’t either.  I began the assessment, placing a small block on the table in front of him.  The test requires the infant to take a block in each hand. He must then attend to or attempt to grasp a third block.  What does an infant with only two hands do, when confronted with three blocks?  What does a one-handed infant do, when confronted with three blocks?

I remember, then, that he picked up the first block and stuck it under his arm. Immediately, he picked up the second block and stuck that one under his arm, leaving his hand free to reach for the third.  No other child had ever done that.  Most of them, even the older ones, take the first two blocks, so both hands are occupied and then stare at the third, pondering how three blocks can fit in two hands.  The test is about cognitive abilities, I remember thinking, Not motor.  And he had found a solution that did not occur to other children.  I soon forgot about his missing hand.  It was, in fact, one of the most enjoyable assessments I have performed, out of ninety, so far.

When we got to the motor sections, I learned that the assessment does not require ambidexterity, only coordination.  And he performed above average.  Above average.  His fine motor abilities are better than half of infants, anywhere in the world.  He only has one hand.

In my reflections, I remembered one of Jesus’ strange, likely hyperbolic statements, “If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.”  I think about taking that passage literally, and I shudder.  Yet, to every infant but this one, possessing a second hand was a handicap.  This one-handed infant showed creativity that would shame those who appeared normal; who appeared stronger.  To him, he has no handicap. In fact, he displayed a strength that is unique to him.  Objectively, he has no handicap.

I spend most of my days seeking some form of strength, some sort of ability that will allow myself to accurately describe myself as a man.  Yet, this child shames even me.  His strength requires attribution to weakness. I have so rarely seen strength in this world.

I have seen able men scrape themselves across pavement in a desperate plea for pity.  I have seen beautiful, intelligent women sell themselves for a few dollars.  And now, I have seen a one-year-old man, superlative and without handicap, humble and inspire the proudest man I know.

After these brief reflections, I gave up searching for his identity.  I did not ask the research assistants to find out which infant had had an amputation.  What reason is there to exclude this infant?  What note would I make in my publication?  The one-handed infant outperformed his peers, and therefore, was excluded from this study.  The sentence does not properly belong in a blog post, let alone a peer-reviewed, scientific publication.


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