Fascinating Read

This long essay by journalist Miles O’Brien describing what he has gone through since losing his left arm in February is one of the more riveting pieces I’ve read in a while. Well worth your time.

*** Update ***

I think one of the reasons I found it so interesting was that when I destroyed my shoulder and it was in a sling for months, I learned that brushing your teeth with your left hand or cleaning yourself after using the toilet with your left hand is not as easy as you would think it would be when you have used your right hand your entire life. For the first week or so I had toothbrush wounds on the roof of my mouth because I wasn’t used to the motion and kept jabbing myself. I’m almost ambidextrous now because my shoulder still hurts every day and there some things I can not do with it, and for years my right arm and forearm were more muscular, but now my left arm is larger. Just weird.

60 replies
  1. 1
    Culture of Truth says:

    He had his arm amputated and still sent in his story? Now we all feel like wimps.

  2. 2
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    That really was fascinating. But I was shocked from the outset — had not heard that Miles O’Brien had an arm amputated. I’ve mentioned before that my old office used to be in CNN Center in Atlanta, and it was very common to see the various network stars in the food court grabbing lunch, or in the elevator, or really anywhere in the building. I would not claim to know Miles O’B personally at all, but I saw him often enough back in the day that we were familiar faces to each other — enough for a quick greeting and a minute or two of small talk. Really sorry about his awful accident, and inspiring to see how he’s coping.

  3. 3
    NotMax says:

    Color me jaded, but found it much more an exercise in sappy self-admiration than riveting.

  4. 4
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Culture of Truth: Heh, very true. Many years ago I sliced the large knuckle of my right index finger down to the bone and had a bunch of stitches. And for the few weeks that the thing was bandaged and splinted and sore, I could hardly function. A wimp indeed.

  5. 5
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    Color me jaded,

    :: searches frantically for the jaded Crayola ::

  6. 6
    Corner Stone says:

    and there some things I can not do with it


  7. 7
    JPL says:

    @NotMax: Okay.

    Thanks John for the link.

  8. 8
    gussie says:

    Do right-handed men jerk off right-handed, and left-handed men jerk off left-handed?

  9. 9
    Corner Stone says:

    @gussie: Usually.

  10. 10
    Howard Beale IV says:

    And his GF underwent breast cancer surgery a few years back.

  11. 11
    Violet says:

    I think one of the reasons I found it so interesting was that when I destroyed my shoulder and it was in a sling for months, I learned that brushing your teeth with your left hand or cleaning yourself after using the toilet with your left hand is not as easy as you would think it would be when you have used your right hand your entire life.

    My mom is now in this situation since she broke her right arm right at the elbow and she’s right handed. She’s allowed to do some things with it now but she’s still having to learn to use her left hand for things.

  12. 12
  13. 13
    Ultraviolet Thunder says:

    @Howard Beale IV:

    And his GF underwent breast cancer surgery a few years back.

    Xeni Jardin
    That was pretty shocking. She was doing advocacy for breast cancer screening but had never been screened, so she went and did it. Had cancer. Got drastic surgery, chemo and the whole works. I’ve been following her writing and it sounds like it was horrendous, day in, day out.

  14. 14
    bago says:

    Nothing quite like that feeling when your girlfriend pulls over and tells you about the cancer.

  15. 15
    Tommy says:

    I tore up my shoulder a few years ago. Doesn’t sound as bad as what you went through, but my gosh it sucked. Didn’t need an operation. Learning to use another hand. Heck just sitting up in bed wasn’t easy. I got used to kind of rolling into a sitting position.

  16. 16
    Baud says:


    It depends whether you’re using your strong hand to type comments at the time.

  17. 17
    Chickamin Slam says:

    Ok so a part of me I clicked the link thinking it was that guy from Deep Space 9. I think the journalist Miles O’Brien should continue writing/blogging about it, sort of a therapy tool, relations to others.

  18. 18
    Amir Khalid says:

    I’m left-handed. More than that, I dare not say.

  19. 19
    NotMax says:

    re: update

    Everyone copes differently, of course.

    Had my right arm (am right-handed) in a sling for a bit more than 4 months after a major injury incurred while detaining a shoplifter. The first 5 weeks or so of that time it was totally incapable of independent movement. Had to use the left hand to re-position the right arm if it was in the way.

    Managed the regular routine of work/life with no particular distress, including receiving heavy boxes at the airport, then unpacking and setting out large shipments of merchandise each week at the shop. The only major annoyance I recall was having to shift the transmission on the steering column and/or operate the windshield wiper controls with the left hand.

    (Not in any way trying to equate a temporary disability with an amputation.)

  20. 20
    Ultraviolet Thunder says:

    Having lost use of both at one time or another, having one working leg is much preferable to one working arm.

  21. 21
    Ultraviolet Thunder says:

    Some things you think will be impossible are easy. The day after my right leg was cast above the knee I was driving left footed with no trouble at all. A breeze.
    When my right arm was incapacitated for 5 weeks I never did learn to write legibly with my left.

  22. 22
    Corner Stone says:

    I’ve always been of the belief that any person who was so uncurious as to not know how to satisfy themselves could never hope to learn what is beautiful for another person.
    Some times I just like to love me.

  23. 23
    Corner Stone says:

    @Ultraviolet Thunder: I’m relatively ambidextrous with my hands/arms, except for cursive writing.
    I still play kick ball better right legged.

  24. 24
    Corner Stone says:


  25. 25
    Baud says:

    @Corner Stone:

    I’m going to guess money.

  26. 26
    NotMax says:

    @Ultraviolet Thunder

    Moderately interesting that some people deliberately choose to use the non-preferred side for certain activities.

    Know two right-handed people who golf left-handed and whose game is vastly better when played that way.

    As for handwriting, my normal scrawl is highly illegible so being forced to switch hands made no discernible difference. As always, YMMV.

  27. 27
    Corner Stone says:

    @Baud: Oh. Thanks.

  28. 28
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Violet: My mom had a similar accident. She’s left handed and broke a bone in her left elbow, so she had to learn how to bowl (her favorite sport for years) right handed. She eventually got fairly good at it.

    Best of luck to her.


  29. 29
    Corner Stone says:


    Know two right-handed people who golf left-handed and whose game is vastly better when played that way.

    They probably need glasses. That was the case for my friend who played major league baseball. Threw right, bats left. His much more dominant eye gave him an advantage at the plate.
    I’d venture to wild ass guess that depth perception and swinging a club is the same kind of result.

  30. 30
    gnomedad says:

    @Chickamin Slam:
    For people who don’t know him, he should go with that. “Yeah, I lost it in a transporter accident. Never did find out where it went.”

  31. 31
    hitchhiker says:

    mr. hitchhiker lost use of right hand in a partial spinal cord injury long ago.

    he can kinda walk, slowly go up and down stairs, type & write with functioning left hand . . . but if you ask him what he wants to be fixed first, it’s the fingers of his right hand.

    after that comes s.e.x.
    please, pasta. anytime this year would be hella good.

  32. 32
    Tommy says:

    @Corner Stone: As a golfer I can report that is more common then you might think. I can’t recall their names off the top of my head but there are several golfers on the PGA Tour that are like this. Now I will admit for most your friends are backwards. Normally left handed players play right handed.

  33. 33
    Steeplejack says:

    Phil Mickelson, BJ’s favorite golfer, is naturally right-handed but plays golf left-handed. (He “mirrored” his father when he was learning as a small child.)

  34. 34
    jr in wv says:

    I was rear-ended while stopped at a light on a high-speed highway May a year ago, and both shoulders hurt bad for months. They were doing better after working on the new winter camp til we left for home in March.

    Then coming home in March I was passenger in our big F-350 when it rolled on I-25 in northern New Mexico; rolling to the right it landed on the passenger side pretty hard. Knocked my 60+ Y O head pretty hard, and my right shoulder has been agony ever since.

    I start P T next week, which I know will hurt as much as anything I have experienced. I hope the joint isn’t damaged, my Dr thinks it’s mostly muscle spasms needing stretched out and rehabbed, which has always been the case before.

    Wish me luck!

  35. 35
    NotMax says:

    @Corner Stone

    Hard to say. One of the fellows also plays a mean game of tennis, always right-handed.

  36. 36
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @jr in wv: Ouch! Best of luck!


  37. 37
    Corner Stone says:

    @Tommy: Heck my friend was a scratch golfer and his dad played the senior tour with modest success.

  38. 38
    Corner Stone says:

    @NotMax: Ok. Who’s to say, really?
    But I think maybe the backhand is a more devastating stroke for tennis.

    I personally bat/throw/swing right but spar with a right hand lead. I can switch in or out because my eyesight is better than 20/20.
    I also throw a frisbee left handed and play racquetball left handed.
    Who knows, anymore?

  39. 39
    Tommy says:

    @Corner Stone: I went to college on a Division I scholarship. I thought I might make my living playing golf. But in college played with a few players that would make the Tour and I quickly released they were playing a game I wasn’t familiar with.

    Even to this day I can attract a crowd on the driving range. But the level of play on the tour is just staggering. For me it wasn’t as much the ball striking it was the putting. When I started to play world class courses the speeds of the green crushed me.

  40. 40
    Corner Stone says:


    Even to this day I can attract a crowd on the driving range.

    You are 5’4″. Unless you were calling out specific targets before you struck the ball you weren’t impressing anyone.

  41. 41
    Tommy says:

    @Corner Stone: LOL. Well I can hit it 320+ off the tee. That generally speaking attracts some attention :).

  42. 42
    Helen says:

    @Corner Stone: Heck, now he’s just gosh darn trolling us

  43. 43
    Ruckus says:

    @Ultraviolet Thunder:
    I’ve had both wrists/hands in casts, torn rotator cuff so in a sling but that wasn’t as bad as a friend who broke both wrists at the same time. He said he was lucky his girl friend at the time really liked him, other wise he wouldn’t have been able to wipe for about 8-10 weeks.
    As I’m somewhat ambidextrous I figured I could write with my left hand. I could. However no one, including me, could read it.
    I’ve know a number of people who have lost limbs or have become paraplegics, and it is a major life changing event. Every thing you know how to do, you have to learn over or find out it’s just not possible. That list of just not possible is a lot shorter than many think though.

  44. 44
    Corner Stone says:

    FYWP has determined that since I can only drive the golf ball 290 yards I am unworthy.

    Ok, for whatever reason, FYWP hates the top two leaders in distance for driving on the PGA. BW and DJ.

  45. 45
    Corner Stone says:

    @Helen: Heck he’s been doing that for some not so insubstantial amount of time.

  46. 46
    Ruckus says:

    Have a friend, long passed now who had an totally non functioning left arm. Wouldn’t let the Drs cut it off so he just carted it around. Drove a truck, played golf one handed(and better than a lot of people with both). The only thing he couldn’t do was cut his steak by himself. Could open his beer, etc but someone else had to cut his steak. Traveled with him for a about a year to events after his wife died, a most amazing person. Flew in C47 over the hump in WWII.

  47. 47
    Tommy says:

    @Corner Stone: Clearly in the fairway is better then hitting it long. My friends all get the newest driver and swing out of their shoes. I am almost worried they will hurt themselves. But when your next play is out of the deep rough, another fairway, or behind a tree, clearly not where you want to be.

  48. 48
    Steeplejack says:

    My father, a surgeon, broke both his elbows at about age 30. He fell backward over a low brick wall while talking to the mailman. I was very young, so I don’t remember much about how he coped at the time, but I know he had terrible bursitis afterwards.

    I’ll have to ask my mother about it the next time I call her. I’ve been informally picking her brain in an oral-history kind of way. Conclusions so far: the Great Depression was no fun.

  49. 49
    Ruckus says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t a short but well aimed game better than the opposite, a long game that’s no where near the target?

    ETA, BTW I can play neither style. Never long and a surprise if it is in play.

  50. 50
    Corner Stone says:

    @Tommy: Heck that sounds like a good answer to me.

  51. 51
    Samantha George says:

    For years, because of dance, my left leg was my strong leg. My right had been my pivot leg and once I got en pointe, it blew. So I always considered my left leg to be stronger. Now, after years of my left taking the weight, so to speak, my right knee/leg is the strong one and my left is the weak.

  52. 52
    Tommy says:

    @Ruckus: You are not right or wrong. Really depends the type of courses you play and from what tees. So many of the courses today are so long that if you can’t hit it a “country mile” off the tee you are in for a long day. It is why even the pros would rather miss the fairway an hit a 7 iron into the green instead of hitting the fairway and having a 4 iron approach shot.

  53. 53
    MazeDancer says:

    Because I have intense, computer-based deadlines, long ago I recognized I needed to “mouse” with both hands. Otherwise, the right hand gave out long before the deadline was met. Also, anyone I ever knew who was a “star” in their computer-based world – animators, vid editors, sound engineers, etc – had their career clipped by “wrist issues”. After the first time I met a tough deadline with a painful right hand and lot of icing I understood why.

    So now, I always mouse with the left hand. Feels odd not to do that.

    Highly recommend everyone teach themselves to use both hands at the computer. Fend off carpal syndrome in an Info Age. Even people who are not “stars” have to sit at the computer for long hours. Over a lifetime, the wrist of your dominant hand will not be able to withstand that pressure.

    It’s a few weeks of feeling ridic, and then it kicks in, and you like it.

  54. 54
    Howard Beale IV says:

    @Ultraviolet Thunder: My mother had Stage II-under went a mastectomy and Taxol theraphy-thankfully, she’s cancer-free close to 20 years in.

  55. 55
    Jacel says:

    MazeDancer: Yes, I saw so many other technical writers fall into carpal tunnel that I frequently reversed the hand I used for the mouse.

  56. 56
    Ruckus says:

    I must have played mostly shorter courses. If I could hit the fairway I actually didn’t look all that bad. Now if I could just putt worth a darn that might have kept me interested. Played best ball once with a young fella who did go to school on a golf scholarship and I believe had a zero or very close to it handicap. He couldn’t understand why I owned clubs. Explained to him that there has to be someone for him to play better than. The next hole I hit a dead straight drive longer than his. His question was were the hell did that come from. If I knew that my handicap would be a bit less then the cost of the Iraq war.

  57. 57
    mainmata says:

    He now works for PBS (NewsHour) probably a freelancer and described his experience there very soon after it happened. In fact, he may have been on assignment (he was in the Philippines, IIRC) when it happened.

    I had a severe shoulder dislocation in a bicycle accident that could have killed me. But I was 21. And for years, I did regular, ordinary gym workouts that included reinforcing shoulder muscles and, despite a vigorous lifestyle I do not (at least yet) have any problems with that shoulder decades later. So I guess all that means that it depends upon the kind of injury and how the follow-up therapy goes. Which I guess is obvious.

  58. 58
    big ole hound says:

    @Ultraviolet Thunder:Wrong. Mobility is much more important to normal life than using buttons. I had my left leg amputated above the knee and have had nothing but trouble. I’ll trade you a leg for an arm anytime. Try flying, or the beach or camping or kite flying with a wheelchair. Doesn’t work . A missing arm would be so easy compared to a missing leg.

  59. 59
    Ruckus says:

    @big ole hound:
    Having only lost the temp use of any limb I’m surly not the right person to make that decision but I tend to agree with you. My friend with only one arm I wrote about above tends to make me go that way. Most everyone I know or know of in a wheel chair, and that’s a few, have decent lives, but none of them have anywhere near the life they had before the chair. One arm changes a lot of things, a chair changed how they do everything.

  60. 60
    Nutella says:


    Highly recommend everyone teach themselves to use both hands at the computer. Fend off carpal syndrome in an Info Age.

    That’s a good idea. Another way to deal with the problem is to switch around during the day or week to different pointing devices (different styles of mouse, trackballs, Wacom tablets, etc.) so you can use different muscles and avoid damage.

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