I reached for the pen to sign the visa slip; it frittered out of my hand and launched across the aisle, landing with a tiny clatter at the foot of another table. I muttered an apology to the server as I reached for a glass of water, but my swollen fingers refused to grip its cylindrical shape and it slipped out of my fingers, tipping its contents onto the table and soaking everything in its path…this time I cursed. I reached for my purse, knowing I had some tissue inside, and scrabbled with the clutch as the waitress scampered off to find a towel, a pitiable smile on her face…
In the midst of an arthritis flare, I re-experience the awkward training of my infancy, mishandling small objects that should be easy to control; the pain and swelling that escalates during the old lady’s tirade, inundates my hands with weakness and they lose their reign in my body. When we think of the challenge of living with arthritis, we imagine the more obvious devices, like walkers, canes and wheelchairs, but forget about the simple things. Fumbling with shoelaces, grappling with buttons, gripping pens, signing our name, inserting keys, turning doorknobs, lifting mugs, pulling zippers, picking up change, loosening the clutch of a purse – all these ordinary tasks jumbled in the ineptness of once dextrous fingers.
I eventually discovered the key to successfully manoeuvring the small things was to slow down. It’s always been my habit to move quickly, and in my urgency to get things done I forget my hands do not have the strength and agility they once did. Slowing down and taking my time does not make me incapable – it simply helps me deal with the smaller challenges in a graceful manner…without soaking a tablecloth in a public restaurant.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.